Directed by John Cassavetes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 130 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: February 17, 2009
Review Date: February 17, 2009
John Cassavetes' Faces was his second independent feature film presented nine years after his first one Shadows bowed to great critical acclaim. Faces is by far the better film. The direction is more assured, the acting eons better, and the production a bit more elaborate (though lacking the raw, energetic pull of the city). On the other hand, with a handful of truly talented actors, Cassavetes indulges in scenes that go on long past their effectiveness making the movie play much longer than it needed to. These are interesting characters, but some of the continual banter and contrived situations aren’t always so interesting.
After his fourteen year marriage shows signs of atrophying, businessman Richard Forst (John Marley) picks up a young, glamorous prostitute Jeannie (Gena Rowlands) in a bar and enjoys her vivacity and playfulness, aspects which had long ago faded from his relationship with his wife Maria (Lynn Carlin). The next morning, Richard tells Maria he wants a divorce. Shaken, Maria, out for a night of fun with her girl friends in a discothèque, brings home young, blond playboy Chet (Seymour Cassel), but while she’s sexually aroused by him, her feelings of failure about her crumbling marriage make her miserable.
Though there is some obvious improvisation going on in these many elongated scenes, director John Cassavetes takes script credit for the film signifying that there was indeed a story framework that he was attempting to bring forward. (In fact, he earned an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay.) The sequences do indeed tend to go on far past their effectiveness (Cassavates’ obviously indulging the wonderful actors he has at his disposal and letting them fly), and he also allows too much raucous laughter erupting from nowhere and for no purpose. (The continual laughter from all of the principals is quite irritating.) On the other hand, he shows the insidious sexual jealousy in bookended scenes with both the prostitute and her two johns and the hustler and his four ladies competing for attention that make the scenes embarrassingly riveting. He also explores the different reactions of the sexes to the end of the marriage: Richard fosters no guilt or regret for spending the night with his prostitute. Maria is wracked with miserable guilt and extreme humiliation after being caught with the hustler. Director Cassavetes would later go on to explore these themes of bonding and marital discord in two fascinating works: Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence.
And the in-your-face camerawork that had been so stunning in Shadows is back in all its glory here, a rather explosive, coruscating examination of these souls which the triumphant acting makes all the more impressive since this came long before Steadicam made such shooting so effortless. Foremost among the great performances is John Marley’s as the frustrated Richard. His emotional highs and lows during the picture make this clearly his greatest performance. No less impressive is Lynn Carlin as the despondent Maria. Her devastating work earned her an Oscar nomination, an honor that also went to Seymour Cassel’s work as the charming and surprisingly humane hustler Chet. Though billed second, Gena Rowlands has less to do as the alluring Jeannie, but she’s stunningly beautiful and has one really terrific moment when Richard insults the breakfast she’s so proud of having cooked for him. Obviously, his feelings that her talents lie in a room other than the kitchen are thoughtless and hurtful, and it all registers beautifully on Rowland’s eyes and face. One other haunting performance which deserves special mention is Dorothy Gulliver's desperate, hungry-for-affection Sandra.
The film was shot in 16mm and blown up for commercial projection, framed at 1.66:1 which is replicated here with anamorphic enhancement. Though most of the film features naturally heavy grain, there are a few shots throughout the film that are not grainy due to being shot on different film stock, and thus don’t match the rest of the film’s softer, gauzy look at all. The hairs, black and white scratches, and occasional dirt specks have been retained in the transfer which appears to be the same one Criterion issued in 2004. Otherwise, the grayscale delivers some good black levels. The film is divided into 18 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio mix is likely true to its original recording, but nevertheless this mix features light hiss and volume levels that vary throughout the film. There’s a rather dry, shrill timbre to the sound also that isn’t very appealing.
All of the bonus features are continued on the set’s second disc.
An alternate opening to the film (which I preferred in every way to the final product) is provided in an 18-minute, anamorphic widescreen presentation. Featuring some juxtaposed scenes and some bar footage not in the finished film, it makes a fascinating extra to the set.
Two interviews with John Cassavetes filmed three years apart by a French television crew make for engaging viewing. Part I was filmed in Hollywood in 1965 after postproduction work had begun on Faces. It lasts 23 ¼ minutes. Part II filmed in France in 1968 after a screening of the finished work runs 25 minutes. Both are presented in 4:3.
“Making Faces” is a 2004 collection of interviews with Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel, Lynn Carlin, and cinematographer Al Ruban discussing the lengthy production and editing of the film and their delight in its recognition and success. It’s in anamorphic widescreen and lasts 42 minutes.
“Lighting and Shooting the Film” is an interesting compendium of text pages detailing the equipment used in the film’s production, and then cinematographer Al Ruban text-narrating various scenes from the film discussing the film stocks and lights used in the actual shooting. 11 ¼ minutes of clips with text narration under the clips are presented.
The enclosed 8-page booklet contains a cast and crew list, a few tinted production shots, and an essay celebrating the movie by film critic Stuart Klawans.
Overindulgent and not for all tastes, Faces represents a marked improvement from John Cassavetes’ first independent feature. Brilliant acting and affecting characters highlight this noteworthy example of early American independent filmmaking. It’s a pleasure to welcome the Criterion set back into print.