Faces (1968)

A film by John Cassavetes

My Rating:

The richness of imagery and character makes the slow pace riveting.

Bitable Bytes:
"Takes the medium to its fullest potential!"
"One of the coldest scenes I've ever seen!"
"A comment is made about America's late 60's almost without the viewer knowing!"

What to do while watching:
You have time to discuss the characters and their foibles with your viewing mates; or if it's late on a work/school night, debate turning this off before the end and finishing it later, which is harder to do than it may at first seem.

What to eat while watching:
Chocolate cake.

They don't make movies like this anymore. John Cassavetes, one of the first non-studio producers to enter the mainstream-because of the depth and quality of his films, not because of supererogatory shock value-takes the film medium of 1968 to its fullest potential of image and character development. The pacing is very slow compared to today's standards, but the intensity of the conversations alone, like the opening drunken exchange, which ranges through every emotion, keeps the viewer's interest better than yet another car chase.

I like pacing like this. It isn't rushed. No scenes are skipped. A comparison to House of Mirth arises in my mind, as I've just seen that film, too. That one, based on a novel, is a series of intense conversations with the story between entirely left out. It's very hard to care about those characters (especially the one played by Dan Ackroyd) because the dramatic dialogues really have nothing behind them.

Cassavetes, on the other hand, is careful in his scripting and manages to flesh out every character who appears on the screen. The story is of Richard "Dickie" played by John Marley, an older gentleman with a very unique aura about him. I want to call him "distinguished," but that doesn't quite get it. Although he is married to the lovely Lynn Carlin, the film opens with him partying down with his friend Fred, and Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes' wife and main actress) who plays a high-class call girl. The black-and-white images, lit like most noir films with strong shadows and often blinding highlights, casts these characters in a stark way. Their dialogue is frank as they reveal who they are. They are drunk. I like this method of getting adult characters to take significant stands on subjects like friendship, love, and sex. It's true to life, and the scene goes on for a good 20 minutes, allowing the adults to play, and give themselves away; then argue, and give themselves away. We see Dick as a successful man with a good deal of restraint and integrity-bordering on repression. His friend Fred is decidedly sloppier with his emotions as the two of them court Jeanie, the prostitute.

We pick up on Dickie the following day, coming home from work. His wife wants to go a movie. Dickie wants to have sex. His wife says that's all he ever wants: sex and dinner. Clearly, they're not communicating very well. After intimacy, Dickie is clearly very happy, but his only means of expressing it is telling really old, dumb jokes and hoping his wife will laugh. She's not satisfied with Dickie and they argue some more, and finally, Dick decides he wants a divorce.

He decides to call Jeanie, with the light brown hair. His wife enters the room as he's talking, and in one of the coldest scenes I've ever seen, he completes the call to Jeanie, arranging to meet her at a bar, then leaves the house while his wife watches.

At the bar, Jeanie stands him up. So he goes to her house, and she's entertaining two businessmen. An alpha-male confrontation occurs and our protagonist and the creepy boss come to brief fisticuffs. The confrontation is only settled, however, when Dickie either reveals, or bluffs, that he is a president of finance at a large, prestigious company. The creepy boss-man goes into bow-and-scrape mode. Dickie manages to finesse the call girl to his own devices, saving her from the creeps; and a further comment is made about life in America's late 60's almost without the viewer knowing. This comment, I think, is no less salient in our contemporary socioeconomic situation.

Meanwhile, the wife. She has a support system formed of her four girlfriends, all of whom seem to have similar struggles with their husbands. One woman is homely and feels her husband doesn't regard her at all. Another represses herself in subtle, depressive ways. Each woman, from her brief lines, reveals her state as laboring under the various imbalances and obstacles that faced and face women living on the frontier of sexual revolution, with a history of Puritanism, and husbands swallowed by suburbanite lifestyles, stemmed of Industrial-age alienation, blah, blah, blah....

For Pete's sake, Gooden! What are you trying to say? Well, just trust me when I tell you that this film makes the point without any type of academic analysis such as I'm trying to pull here. The women are characters, and it's easy to feel for them.

They go to a go-go, and sit rigidly while the kids dance. A middle-aged hippie-dude tries to loosen them up and succeeds in as far as he is invited back to Lynn's house along with all four women. He puts on a record and tries to get them to dance. He's constantly making up words to songs and singing to these women. He sweeps the homely one off her feet, loosens up the repressed one, but seems to make no ground with wifey number one. She resists his charm with all her might, but he steadily reveals himself to be a very with-it cat, someone not afraid to feel or to speak from his heart.

Husband and wife commit adultery at about the same time, and the repercussions are extremely telling. Although he and she undergo totally different aftermaths to the act itself, there is an equalization at the end, which is startlingly lucid. Back home together, the truth comes out very quickly. He is furious and she is distraught (in general), but Cassavetes quickly manages to underscore the gender double-standard enough to make the viewer feel angry, then lets the wife smack the husband back into the realization that the two of them are equally responsible, equally powerful, equally fragile.

The resolution has a tense peace about it, unexpected for something that looks and feels so much like film noir. This isn't to say that we're given any kind of Hollywood conclusive hugs-all-around ending. Only that after what has preceded, the fact that the two are in the same room (actually, the stairwell) without one of them being dead--without them arguing even--is an upturn of mood at the finale.

This film has care and completeness of character development. I miss that in most films made today. The script was clearly written with a good deal of attention, and the acting carries it off very well. Friends, I feel starkly the clumsiness of my reviewing prowess as I've tried to tackle this work of great skill and subtlety. If you're looking for a good film to watch one night, to escape into a state of interested involvement in a story, this is an excellent choice.

A Note about Herschell Gordon Lewis:

Some e-mail enlightenment came to me about the director of Suburban Roulette reviewed a few weeks ago, and available in my archives. By the way, you can miss it, and most of his work, according to friendly reader Rando.


H.G. Lewis is one of the kings of early exploitation cinema. He originally partnered with David Friedman, initially producing mostly "nudie cuties" mostly involving X-ray glasses, nudist colonies, etc. They then came up with the classic (lame by today's standards) Blood Feast and then Two Thousand Maniacs. The team then broke up and Lewis went on to produce mostly horror/gore type movies on his own before starting his successful marketing career. I would refer you to Mr. Friedman's interesting book "A Youth in Babylon" for details. As far as his movies that may be worth viewing, they are all about equally bad, though the nudies at least have something to stay awake for.... [But] bear in mind they are very tame by today's standards - strictly T&A, no "pickles and beaver" as they said in those days. Also the plots are EXTREMELY thin for the most part. Supposedly Freidman and Lewis produced the first American "nudie cutie" movie "The Adventures of Lucky Pierre", which is tough to find. They also did "Boin-n-g", which in a way was autobiographical, featuring two men making a nudie flick. You can rent Boin-n-g by mail from Video Wasteland (www.videowasteland.com). The pair also did a few nudist colony movies -generally the plot was a girl discovers how healthful and natural the nudist lifestyle is.


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For your collection: Faces.

Gooden's listening to: Procol Harum's Shine on Brightly

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