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Faces, 1968

CarlinRichard (John Marley) goes into the screening room of his office where female assistants attend to him - coffee, cigarettes, whatever he needs. He is the CEO of a powerful financial institution, and his latest investment is a movie. The film title momentarily flashes Faces, and that is all the introduction the venerable improvisational director, John Cassavetes, will need in order to present his film. There are no opening credits in the film, perhaps because the film is about all humanity, and the actors are merely surrogate faces for our own emotional purgatory. Faces follows an evening in the lives of Richard and Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin), a couple who, after fourteen years of marriage, is at a relational crossroads. Richard meets Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), a beautiful 28 year-old professional escort (who claims to be 23) in a bar, and a mutual attraction develops. He arranges a meeting, but she does not keep the appointment, keeping company instead with a client who sees her more as a psychotherapist than a pleasurable diversion. Richard goes to her house, where he first antagonizes, then befriends, her client. Meanwhile, his wife Maria goes to a nightclub with some friends, and ends up taking Chet (Seymour Cassel), an aging playboy, home. Empty words, forced laughter, and loud music suffuse the atmosphere of both houses. As in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, these distractions are futile attempts to fill a deeper void within their soul. Every character in the film harbors emotional wounds. Their fundamental need to love, argue, dance, or laugh are all helpless cries for validation (note a similar, although not as bleak, effect achieved in Mike Leigh's Naked). Cinematically, Cassavetes uses several panning and zooming shots that appears as if the camera is wandering or "chasing" a potential action. This is not a consequence of improvisation. Rather, it is a means of reflecting, not only the characters' restlessness, but also their desperate attempts to cling to anything or anyone who may rescue them from the pain of their empty, privileged existence. Then, with the advent of a new day, as a tenuous reconciliation seems to be forming through a series of morning rituals, the closing credits roll - finally associating the actors' names with the characters they portray. In essence, validating them.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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A Woman Under the Influence, 1974

Falk/RowlandsWhen does neurotic behavior lapse into madness? In A Woman Under the Influence, we are introduced to an inscrutable, emotionally vulnerable woman named Mabel (Gena Rowlands) as she goes through the rituals of everyday life: preparing for an evening alone with her husband Nick (Peter Falk), flirting with a receptive bar patron, meeting her children at the school bus stop. There is a pervasive undercurrent of volatility in her personality, perhaps symptomatic of a surfacing instability, that invariably cause people to withdraw from her. She imposes herself on one of Nick's coworkers to dance with her during a spaghetti "breakfast", embarrassing the baffled guest. She becomes verbally abusive to strangers who will not stop her the current time. She forces Mr. Jensen, the reluctant father of her children's friends, to participate in their games. Mabel is isolated from the people who are closest to her, desperately reaching out for validation, only to be humored with condescension, or shamed into silence. We see a glimpse of her despair as she seeks reassurances from her family that she is a good mother. Her determination in sending the children to school on time is a constructed facade - an attempt to provide structure to her crumbling psyche - a self-affirmation that, despite her acknowledged "anxiety spells", she is fundamentally in control. But it is soon evident that she is collapsing under the weight of her private demons, her own self-induced influences, and Nick makes the agonizing decision to have her institutionalized.

John Cassavetes' approach to filmmaking as cinema verite captures the honesty and integrity of human emotion unembellished. Using medium shots, Cassavetes places us in the center of the milieu: a guest at the dinner table, a coworker listening to Nick's guilt and denial over his wife's commitment, a party reveler welcoming the recuperated Mabel home. His camera movement is deliberate, using panning sequences to reflect the chaos of the situation. Initially, we see a disorganized Mabel sending the children away with their grandmother, and later responding to the doctor's inquiry with resistance and hysteria. However, after sending Mabel away, it is Nick who loses self-control, instigating an argument that leads to an unfortunate accident. In the end, after an awkward homecoming, Nick and Mabel return to the distraction of arranging the dinner table, attempting to bring some semblance of order into their disrupted lives - reconciling with their own culpability and failures - alone in the room, together.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Love Streams, 1984

Cassavetes/ShawA dashing, successful writer of lurid romance novels named Robert Harmon (John Cassavetes) arrives home in the middle of the day - still stylishly dressed in formal evening attire - to find an odd assortment of vivacious, attractive young women engaged in frivolous activities as they bide time awaiting his return. Attempting to engage one of his flighty companions into a seemingly more meaningful interview (that he is presumably audio tape recording as research for his work), Robert asks her what her definition of a "good time" is - a question that the disinterested young woman is eager to cut short with prolonged silence and curt responses. Robert purports to know the answer, and attempts to steer the conversation by commenting that the underlying key is in "being with someone". However, as he scuttles his ever constant parade of compensated escorts out of the house in a series of confused and anonymous transactions of personal checks and hired taxicabs (ironically exchanging empty kisses and declaring "I love you" to no one in particular), his vacuous lifestyle betrays his own incapacity for real intimacy - his sad disconnection from the emotional complexities of love that exist between the void of his casual affairs and investment in a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

Meanwhile, in another town, Sarah Lawson (Gena Rowlands) enters an empty conference room with her adolescent daughter Debbie (Risa Blewitt) and immediately begins to lavish the girl with presents, her myopic doting only briefly interrupted by the entrance of other people into the room, including her estranged husband Jack (Seymour Cassel). Sarah and Jack have assembled for a meeting with their legal counsel and the presiding judge (Joan Foley) in order to finalize the terms of an increasingly acrimonious divorce. However, despite a mutually pre-arranged custodial agreement, Sarah interrupts the legal proceeding by inopportunely stating her intention to take their daughter out of the state for an indeterminate period of time, traveling cross-country in order to visit members of Jack's family who are suffering from ill health, and justifies her unusual intention by commenting, "You might say that's what I do. I visit sick people". Seeking guidance from a psychiatrist after suffering a hysterical collapse in front of the judge, she is advised to distance herself from her family by traveling abroad and embarking on a meaningless love affair. Unable to cope in an environment of complete strangers, she decides to return home and pay a visit to Robert, and invariably finds a new focus for her desperate affection in her equally emotionally crippled brother.

Based on a play by Ted Allan, Love Streams is a haunting, provocative, and brutally honest examination of love, emotional need, loneliness, and longing. In contrast to the active and confrontational camerawork of his earlier films (most notably in Faces), John Cassavetes creates a spare, muted, and objective portrait, capturing with underlying compassion the empty lives of emotionally adrift characters who act out the ache of their unarticulated despair through incomprehensible, cruel, and often self-destructive acts. Cassavetes further incorporates recurring episodes of representational surrogacy in order to reflect the film's theme of emotional substitution: Robert's instinctive and automatic disbursement of personal checks to his companions and ex-wife; his night club encounter with an admiring female impersonator named Phyllis (Logan Carter) who is drawn to the portrayal of loneliness in his novels; his estranged young son Albie's (Jakob Shaw) difficult and conflicted relationship with his stepfather (Eddy Donno); Sarah's pattern of smothering and overcompensating attention towards her resentful family; her unconsulted decision to find a baby for her brother that results in a bizarre, compulsive purchase of a farm menagerie. Inevitably, as Sarah attempts to rationalize her tenacious attachment to her unfaithful husband and troubled marriage through her fragmented explanation, "Love is a stream. It's continuous. It doesn't stop", she metaphorically encapsulates the profound and indefinable - and often elusive - eternal human search for connection, love, acceptance, and intimacy.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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