Sunday, June 06, 2010

FACES (1968) - John Cassavetes

Watching Faces, I was reminded within the first 15 minutes why I took such a long break from Cassavetes. By the last 15, I remembered why I made my way back.

The first half hour or so of Faces is, to be honest, pretty damned trying. Businessman husband John Marley and his associate go home with "prostitute" Gena Rowlands after a night on the town. This consists of a lot of drinking we aren't witness to and many drunken sing-a-longs, impromptu dances, tired jokes and showy free-form acting we are. There was quite a bit of this also in Woman Under the Influence and TONS of it in Husbands. Cassavetes really does love his karaoke-infused Stanislavski. It's like everyone's on laughing gas but the viewer.

Marley's associate then makes the mistake of asking directly how much Rowlands charges, a gesture which she blanches at (huh? a prostitute squeamish of talking about money?). The two leave empty-handed, sex-wise, and I'm just left scratching my head and checking my DVD counter display. It gets better. Marley goes home to his suburban house and suburban wife (a very impressive Lynn Carlin). What starts out with a few nightcaps before dinner turns into a hesitant discussion of cunnilingus, an argument and then Marley abruptly asking her for a divorce. Finally, a plot! OK, not a plot exactly, but at least some conflict. And not so much damned singing!

After this (near the hour mark, mind you), the film basically splits into two short films during one long night, husband and wife each looking to find quick and easy solace in the arms of another. For Marley, it's back to Rowlands' boudoir to wait out some other crude "johns" who've roosted there. For wife Carlin, it's a night out dancing with the girls during which they bring home hot young '60s stud Seymour Cassel. One night ends in sex, the other in a near overdose-suicide. I'll let you figure out which is which, but given the era this was made in you should probably have a pretty good guess.

By the end, I have to admit I was sucked in, and the last shot of the married couple left devastated on the stairwell is a real humdinger (and maybe the only really well-composed one in the whole film). This being a Cassavetes' film, the acting is impressive across the board, particularly by Lynn Carlin (Mrs. Columbo!). Seymour Cassel is a welcome breath of fresh air in the film as soon as he arrives on the scene. Cassavetes' wife Rowlands has the most thankless, unbelievable role as a prudish sort-of prostitute. But, not to fear, there will be many more opportunities for Gena to shine in the films to come, one of the perks of being the director's wife.

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