Cast & Crew
After 14 years, the childless marriage of Maria and Richard Forst has started to disintegrate. Frustrated by the approach of middle age, unable to communicate on anything more than a superficial level, and no longer comforted by their material possessions, they have begun to look elsewhere for emotional reassurance. One evening, after Maria has rejected Richard's physical advances, Richard abruptly announces that he wants a divorce and, in the presence of his wife, phones a prostitute, Jeannie Rapp, for a date. Jeannie consents, though by this time she and her friend are entertaining two out-of-town clients. Richard arrives at Jeannie's apartment, and following an ugly scence with one of the clients she gets rid of her guests and permits Richard to spend the night. Maria, meanwhile, has gone to a discotheque with three other discontented wives. Encouraged by the attentions of the fun-loving Chet, the women invite him back to Maria's home. During the party that ensues, Maria watches with mixed emotions as her friends compete for the young man's attentions, but once she is alone with Chet, she responds to his playful lovemaking. When Chet awakens the next morning, he finds Maria unconscious from an overdose of sleeping tablets. He helps her recover, then hears Richard returning home--following a pleasant breakfast with Jeannie--and impulsively leaps out of the bedroom window, hops off the first-story roof, and races across the lawn. Richard observes the escape, and now face to face with Maria, he expresses his hurt by hurling insults at her; she retaliates by flatly stating that she no longer loves him. Finally, emotionally exhausted, they sit in numbed silence on the hallway stairs. With nothing left to say to each other, they separate and walk into different parts of the house.
Joanne Moore Jordan
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Cassavetes broke all the rules, inventing his own and then discarding them as he went along, improvising and experimenting with everything from the cinematography to the performances to the actual financing of the film; he mortgaged his own home numerous times to subsidize his movies over the years and took on acting jobs purely for monetary reasons. Yet Shadows, with its jerky, hand-held camerawork, vivid location shooting on New York City streets and edgy subject matter involving an interracial romance and conflicted characters living on the margins of society, was just a warm-up for Cassavetes's next film, Faces (1968). It not only confirmed Cassavetes's early promise as a director but set the tone and style for the rest of his film career, one in which he relentlessly probed the often dissatisfied lives of unglamorous, middle-class Americans. Faces was not the average filmgoer's idea of a good time at the movies but it earned widespread critical acclaim (and three Oscar® nominations) and was an inspiration to future filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese (Who's That Knocking at My Door? ), Henry Jaglom (A Safe Place ) and Sean Penn (The Indian Runner ).
Dispensing with a conventional plot structure, Faces is a cinema verite-like portrait of a marriage in turmoil, rendered in chunks of real time. The film begins at the point where Richard Forst (John Marley) and his wife Maria (Lynn Carlin) are already frustrated and resentful toward each other. Their constant quarreling and angry silences finally lead Richard to ask for a divorce. Then, in the presence of his wife, he calls Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), a prostitute he met recently, and makes a date. He walks out, leaving Maria in shock, but soon her female friends rally to her support and take her out for a night on the town. At a dance club on the Hollywood strip, she meets Chet (Seymour Cassel), a fun-loving, free spirit who ends up spending the night with her. The two different storylines - Richard and Jeannie's tentative romance and Maria and Chet's one-night affair - play out in equally unresolved circumstances but that's less important than Richard and Maria's emotional rollercoaster ride to the film's bleak conclusion.
Faces initially began as ten pages of dialogue Cassavetes had written as a two character sketch about two friends recalling happier times in their lives. Shadows producer Mo McEndree suggested that Cassavetes expand it so he produced a 175 page script that seemed ideal for a stage play. John Marley, who had appeared in Cassavetes's A Child Is Waiting (1963), and Val Avery (who had co-starred with John on the Johnny Staccato TV series) both read it and wanted to appear in it. The play quickly evolved into a film project with Cassavetes juggling finances behind the scenes. "...I went over to Universal [Studios] - my bank - and acted in two lousy TV pilots, which bought me a movie camera and film. I then had enough to start the picture and we shot for six and a half months. We wound up with an awful lot of footage." (From Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented the American Independent Film by Marshall Fine).
For the film, Cassavetes recruited his wife, Gena Rowlands, Hollywood friends and associates from his New York days to fill the cast and crew positions and used his own home and his mother-in-law's house as the main sets. With various working titles of "The Dynosaurs," "One Fa and Eight Las," and "The Marriage," Cassavetes's screenplay evolved from its simple beginnings to a more focused concept with John Marley in the central role of Richard Forst. Seymour Cassel, who had followed Cassavetes to Hollywood from New York along with McEndree and associate producer Al Ruban, had a minor part in his friend's previous film, Too Late Blues (1961), but played a much more prominent role this time. In fact, Cassavetes created the part of Chet specifically for Cassel, incorporating aspects of the actor's own personality - his carefree nature, penchant for practical jokes, and habitual womanizing.
Cassavetes also liked the effect he got when he mixed professional actors with non-actors and several minor roles were cast with family members, relatives, and acquaintances. More importantly, the central role of Maria was played by newcomer Lynn Carlin, who had previously been Robert Altman's secretary at Screen Gems. Cassavetes had an office down the hall and had Carlin fill in for an actor during a rehearsal one day; it led to a new career path for Carlin.
The actual filming of Faces was a chaotic affair in the beginning. "John was letting everybody shoot," Ruban recalled. "I would shoot the first shot and then John would say, 'Ok, George [Sims], you shoot the next one, and Seymour, do you want to shoot the next one?' he was giving everyone in the crew a chance to use the camera. John's thought was that everyone should be involved and share the experience. What was happening at that moment was what was important. He gave no thought to the finished product..." Occasionally Haskell Wexler, who was already a renowned industry cinematographer, would occasionally drop by the shoot and even film a few scenes. "It was like working on a film with a living sketch pad," Wexler said, "when the artist has a sense of what the film should be, but he doesn't know whether to use a pen or make this part longer." This communal approach to filmmaking, however, varied wildly in quality and after a month of shooting, most of the footage was unusable, convincing Cassavetes to become more autocratic in his creative process. Still, it was completely unlike any Hollywood film production and was an ongoing learning process for everyone, particularly Gena Rowlands, who at first had terrible arguments with her husband on the film. "My mistake was in thinking that since the director was also my lover, he would think everything I did was perfect. Once I began to regard John as a director, the problems straightened out quickly."
Cassavetes's love for the filmmaking process became an obsession. "Faces became more than a film," he said. "It became a way of life, a film against the authorities and the powers that prevent people from expressing themselves the way they want to, something that can't be done in America, that can't be done without money." Eventually, in between other jobs and working off and on during a four year period, reshooting some scenes to his satisfaction, Cassavetes ended up with approximately 250,000 feet of film - a massive amount totaling almost 115 hours. The most difficult part was editing it down into a final version. The first rough cut ran six hours, the second pass was four hours and a version prepared for preview audiences in Canada clocked in at three hours and forty minutes. After numerous test engagements in Los Angeles, Cassavetes was finally satisfied with his 130 minute cut even though the film wasn't well received by preview audiences in Hollywood. Undeterred, Cassavetes took Faces to the Venice Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Lion - the equivalent of a Best Picture Oscar® - and John Marley won the best actor award.
The event that really made the difference for Cassavetes's labor of love, however, was the New York Film Festival, whose importance at the time was crucial for the success of a film as difficult to market and distribute as Faces. It was rejected at first by the festival judges but critic Andrew Sarris, who was on the selection committee, met with the festival founder (Amos Vogel) and programmer (Richard Roud) and stated his case in no uncertain terms: "I feel very strongly about this," he told them. "I'm not a fan of Cassavetes. I don't believe in improvisation and I'm certainly not into naturalism. But if we don't put this film in, I don't see a point in continuing on the committee. There wouldn't be hard feelings but that's how I feel." Faces was voted back into the festival and created a sensation at the festival premiere.
It went on to garner Oscar® nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin and a Best Screenplay nomination for Cassavetes. In addition, the Writers Guild of America nominated Faces as the Best Written American original Screenplay and the National Society of Film Critics awarded the film two honors - Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Cassel). Despite the accolades, not everyone liked the film and some critics absolutely hated it. Among them was Pauline Kael who wrote "There are scenes in Faces so dumb, so crudely conceived and so badly performed that the audience practically burns incense...I think embarrassment is not a quality of art but our reaction to failed art." And even today when Cassavetes's work is more revered than during his own lifetime, the debate continues. David Thomson, in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, offered that "The Cassavetes films are far more thoroughly written than was once believed; and they are badly written...as a director, he [Cassavetes] is like a guy who begs us to hang around because these people are fascinating - and not just drunks. What may be most interesting in his work is the sociology of his middle America. He chooses basic, unenlightened, and unhappily successful people. They are a rarity in American film, rigorously shunned by most directors: they are bores."
Regardless of Faces's imperfections as a film or whether one loves it or hates it, its place as a pivotal moment in the American cinema is uncontested. For underneath the film's messy and sometimes meandering turn of events is an undeniable sense of truth, a mirror is held up and the masks are removed. This was clearly the intention of Cassavetes who wrote the following in his introduction to the published screenplay of Faces: "Playboy magazine, tit films, and cocktail party diatribes have not only affected our society, but have shaped it with such discontent regarding men and women that sex is no longer in itself sufficient without violence, death, or neurosis as stimulants. The idea of love as a mysterious, undiscovered world has come to have no place in our innermost imagination. It is this confusing dilemma in which men find themselves trying to relate to a difficult life and their responsibilities in it that Faces attempts to explore."
Producer: John Cassavetes, Maurice McEndree, Al Ruban
Director: John Cassavetes
Screenplay: John Cassavetes
Cinematography: Maurice McEndree, Al Ruban
Production Design: Phedon Papamichael
Music: Jack Ackerman, Charlie Smalls
Film Editing: John Cassavetes, Maurice McEndree, Al Ruban
Cast: John Marley (Richard Forst), Gene Rowlands (Jeannie Rapp), Lynn Carlin (Maria Forst), Seymour Cassel (Chet), Fred Draper (Freddie), Val Avery (Jim McCarthy), Dorothy Gulliver (Florence).
by Jeff Stafford
John Cassavetes: 5 Films on DVD
The early and most historically significant years of Cassavetes' directorial efforts are finally put into context with Criterion's eight-disc, five-film DVD omnibus. While these films were not terribly difficult to see before (in fact, most have been circulated on VHS and DVD under other banners in years past), the absence of any sort of context or filmic Rosetta stone to help viewers appreciate the words and images before them yielding only minimal appreciation for these often challenging works. Now placed in chronological order with hefty, highly accessible supplements, the first twenty years of his output finally clicks into place.
The earliest and simplest of the set, 1959's Shadows offers a freeform rebuttal to the glossy Hollywood depictions of race relations found in films like Imitation of Life and the films of Stanley Kramer. The film centers on a struggling African-American trio of siblings in New York: washed-up jazz performer Hugh (Hugh Hurd), little sister Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), and young punk-in-the-making Bennie (Ben Carruthers). The latter two are distinctly light-skinned enough to pass for white, an opportunity the sexually awakening Lelia uses to date a white man, Tony (Anthony Ray). When Tony discovers his girlfriend's true racial identity, his urge to flee results in a series of hard self-evaluations for each brother and sister.
A free-flowing and striking debut work, Shadows was widely misunderstood during early screenings. Not a traditional "message film," it instead focuses on the emotions and psychological wounds of its characters reflected in the jazzy music and loose intercutting, with the three lives often running in tadem with each other to let viewers draw their own associations. Presented in its original full frame aspect ratio (1.33:1), the film looks considerably better here than in prior incarnations; its rough and gritty texture is still in place but with much more appreciable detail and a film-like texture contributing to its effectiveness. Extras include an 11-minute interview with Goldoni, a 4-minute video chat with associate producer and familiar character actor Seymour Cassel, a 4-minute reel of silent 16mm acting workshop footage with Cassavetes and collaborator Burt Lane, a thorough 11-minute restoration demonstration exploring more than the standard versions included on early Criterion DVDs, a stills gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Incidentally, rumors persisted for years that a "first cut" of the film was completed but pulled due to poor audience response, though as facts later demonstrated, Cassavetes were displeased with some of the footage from the original rough cut and decided to reshoot several key moments. As such, this is the only completed, authorized version in existence; the alternate version is absent here due to the wishes of the Cassavetes estate.
One film that truly does exist in alternate versions is Faces, Cassavetes' 1968 return to personal cinema after a sojourn into Hollywood filmmaking and television production with projects like A Child Is Waiting. Clocking in at over two hours, the film thoroughly burrows into the psyche of insurance executive Richard Forst (The Godfather's John Marley), a barnstorming dynamo at work whose life at home is entirely different. His superficially happy marriage to Maria (Lynn Carlin) comes to an abrupt halt when he demands a divorce in bed; in fact, he has become enraptured with a prostitute, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), who may or may not be a callous gold digger. Meanwhile Maria becomes the prey of Chet (Cassel), a clubgoer who sets his sights on disillusioned married women. The quartet's damaged love lives soon coalesce into a new set of emotional and domestic alliances as each assumes a new face of their own.
A more audacious and confident work than the previous film, Faces offers a devastating and wholly convincing portrait of a marriage dissolving; the fallout is charted in a series of vignettes, shot in stark verite-inspired 16mm, with each performer contributing top-notch work.
Letterboxed at 1.66:1 with anamorphic enhancement, this film has also undergone a sensitive restoration with its original "flaws" still intact. The feature occupies an entire disc by itself, with a second disc housing the supplements. The first offers a full 17-minute alternate opening sequence shown in Toronto but jettisoned from later prints, followed by an episode of the French TV series Cineastes de notre temps dedicated to Cassavetes, running 48 minutes. A new documentary, "Making Faces," covers the making of the film in 41 minutes thanks to interviews with Carlin, Cassel, Rowlands, and cinematographer Al Ruban. Another new supplement, "Light and Shooting the Film," features Ruban again covering the technical approach used to achieve the film's distinct look and camera placement, split into two sections ("Intro and Equipment" and the clip-heavy "Sequence Explanations").
Arguably the most accessible and widely revered of Cassavetes' films, A Woman Under the Influence (1974) followed two outstanding efforts, Husbands (1970) and Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), both absent here as they currently fall under major studio ownership. In a tour de force performance, Rowlands is mentally unstable Mabel Longhetti whose husband, Nick (Peter Falk), loves her despite her madness and tries to put the best public face on their relationship. Their own bond suffers enough strain, but the situation worsens when their children, friends, and parents enter the mix to create a difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape.
An even longer and more intense character study, this dynamite showcase for Rowlands and Falk (reunited from Husbands) has lost little of its piercing intensity; rarely do form and content align as well as they do here, with Cassavetes offering a compassionate portrait of a marriage from a vastly different perspective than one might expect. Once again material that could have lent itself to typical TV-movie-of-the-week material is dissected and humanized in a manner that yields increasingly powerful emotional dividends. Fortunately the film is presented here in a dazzling transfer that makes appreciating the film all the easier; no previous version can touch the immaculate color and detail on display here.
In the only audio commentary of the set, camera operator Mike Ferris and sound recordist/composer Bo Harwood offer a technical appraisal of their work on the film; don't expect much actor or auteur revelations, but for anyone interested in indie filmmaking methods, it's a valuable and informative track. Other supplements include new interviews with Rowlands and Falk (recorded together, appropriately enough), a 1975 interview with Cassavetes and film historian Michael Ciment, a hefty stills gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.
By far the most difficult film of the set, 1976's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie delves into seedier territory as strip club owner Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara), a former war vet and inveterate gambler, is confronted by gangsters over his escalating debt. They offer a trade-off; if Cosmo murders a Chinese bookie on their hit list, his debts will be cleared. Trapped in a sun-drenched California moral hell, Cosmo must decide what to do as he pits his own life against the consequences of his decisions, all against the backdrop of his seedy club, the Crazy Horse West.
Originally released at 135 minutes, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was trimmed down by Cassavetes to 108 minutes; this latter version is the one previously preserved on tape and disc until now. The two-disc version here retains both cuts; the longer one is certainly a tougher slog but contains some nice character moments (particularly from Cassel, all but invisible in the short version) and technical flourishes rewarding for die-hard fans. However, most viewers may be best off starting with the shorter cut, which features the more coherent narrative experience - and the film is certainly daunting enough in its revised form. Carried almost entirely by Gazzara's performance, the film is largely a celebration of atmosphere and quirky supporting characters, etching a dizzying and sometimes upending portrait of California sleaze where each life indeed comes with a price tag attached.
Extras for this feature include a new interview with Gazzara and producer Al Ruban, running 18 minutes, in which the film's production and rocky release history are thoroughly discussed. Another Clement audio interview is present as well, along with a stills gallery. The transfers of the features are slightly different, with the better-preserved final cut looking a bit more burnished and buffed to digital perfection.
The final feature, 1977's Opening Night, offers a very different vehicle for Gena Rowlands as Myrtle Gordon, the crumbling lead diva in the latest play by hard-bitten writer Sarah Goode (Joan Blondell). One night an eager fan, Nancy (Laura Johnson), is struck and killed while chasing Myrtle's car. As the rehearsals begin to deteriorate due to Myrtle's instability, visions of Nancy and personal demons threaten to derail the entire production as the leading lady's soul proves to be incapable of delivering the performance necessary to bring this important new play to life.
A crucial thematic companion piece to A Woman Under the Influence, this film explores the similar theme of insanity within a family (in this case, a theater troupe) within the context of reality vs. illusion as played out in front of and behind the footlights. Never better, Rowlands dives into her performance and delivers a ferocious characterization, prefiguring the iconic turn she was to perform three years later in Cassavetes' most enduring commercial success, Gloria. Only the obtuse nature of the game-playing within the story might force some viewers to keep Opening Night at bay; it's not as difficult as Chinese Bookie but certainly doesn't play well for casual, half-interested viewing.
Again boasting a gorgeous anamorphic transfer, Opening Night boasts another fine set of extras. Rowlands and Gazzara appear for a 22-minute interview, offering their own recollections about Cassavettes' state of mind during this, one of the most volatile periods from his career. Other extras include a new 7-minute interview with Ruban, a Ciment/Cassavetes audio interview, and two theatrical trailers.
If that's not enough to satisfy your Cassavetes craving, take a deep breath and dive into the final disc, A Constant Forge. Created in 2000, this 200-minute opus by Charles Kiselyak features a comprehensive biographical study of the director/actor and covers each of his projects both realized and idealized. Rowlands and company appear again, delivering somewhat more critical studies of his work with a focus on ethnical and symbolic threads running through his films. As a portrait of a modern American filmmaker, it would be hard to imagine a more thorough and even-handed tribute - even given its epic length that outdoes any of the films themselves! This final disc also contains "Cassavetes Players," a profile of his astonishing stable of acting talent, and a thorough poster gallery. The fold-out boxed set also contains a massive 68-page booklet containing essays and reflections by a host of critics and writers: Gary Giddins, Stuart Klawans, Kent Jones, Philip Lopate, Dennis Lim, Charles Kiselyak, Martin Scorsese, Elaine Kagan, Jonathan Lethemrn and interviews and writings by Cassavetes himself.
For more information about John Cassavetes: 5 Films, visit Criterion Collection. To order John Cassavetes: 5 Films, go to TCM Shopping.
by Nathaniel Thompson
John Cassavetes: 5 Films on DVD
By the way, Jeannie, what do you charge?- Freddie
Freddie... Aw, Freddie... Aw, Freddie... Aw, no, Freddie... Don't spoil it, Freddie, please.- Jeannie Rapp
Spoil what? Honey, I'm game for anything. I just wanna know how much you charge. It's legitimate, isn't it? I know I have to pay. I'm not too schooled in these thngs, but I know that somewhere along the line, your little hand is going to find its way into my pocket. You're shocked, aren't you, old Dickie, old pal? What do you think she is? You think she's some clean towel that's never been used? My God, Dickie, you think you don't pay? How many times a week does Maria ask you for some money? Money, child, is a necessity, and don't you think that you don't work for it and pay for it. My God, what, what is this? He thinks I'm insulting you. I'm offering you. Hell, look, what's the matter? If I went to one of those fancy restaurants, I'd probably tip the headwaiter, the waiter, the busboy, and a hundred bucks goes flying down the drain--and I couldn't have any more fun than I could with Jeannie here.- Freddie
What do you want to drink?- Richard Forst
Well, whatever it is, I want it on the rocks, straight and dirty, because I feel very very bitchy tonight.- Maria Forst
Well, I feel very, very bitchy too. That makes two of us.- Richard Forst
There's a Bergman film in the neighborhood.- Maria Forst
I don't feel like getting depressed tonight.- Richard Forst
No place like home.- Richard Forst
What?- Maria Forst
I said, Have you ever been to Rome?- Richard Forst
Why did the man throw, throw the clock out of the window, huh? He wanted to see time fly.- Richard Forst
While filming a part on "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre" (1963), John Cassavetes saw Steven Spielberg lurking around the set, as he was then in the habit of doing. Cassavetes approached Spielberg and asked what he wanted to be. When Spielberg replied he wanted to be a director, Cassavetes allowed the young man to direct him for the day. He later invited Spielberg to work on this film (Faces), Spielberg serving as an uncredited production assistant for two weeks.
Filmed on location in Los Angeles in 1966. Prerelease title: The Dynosaurs.
Voted Best Screenplay of the Year by the 1968 National Society of Film Critics.
Winner of four awards at the 1968 Venice Film Festival, including the Best Actor Prize (Marley).
Released in United States 1968
Released in United States April 1989
Released in United States August 1968
Released in United States August 1997
Released in United States Fall November 24, 1968
Released in United States January 23, 1989
Released in United States July 11, 1990
Released in United States July 1989
Released in United States May 19, 1990
Released in United States May 29, 1991
Released in United States May 8, 1991
Released in United States on Video March 26, 1996
Released in United States September 22, 1968
Shown at Anthology Film Archives (John Cassavetes Retrospective) in New York City May 19, 1990.
Shown at Montreal World Film Festival August-September 1968.
Shown at Museum of Modern Art (John Cassavetes: From the Archive) in New York City July 3 & 4, 1989.
Shown at New York Film Festival September 22, 1968.
Shown at Pacific Film Archive (The Films of John Cassavetes) in Berkeley, California July 11, 1990.
Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Tribute to John Cassavetes) January 23, 1989.
Shown at Venice Film Festival August 1968.
Formerly distributed by Cine-Source.
Formerly distributed by Faces International Films.
Released in United States 1968 (Shown at Montreal World Film Festival August-September 1968.)
Released in United States January 23, 1989 (Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Tribute to John Cassavetes) January 23, 1989.)
Released in United States on Video March 26, 1996
Released in United States April 1989 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Tribute to John Cassavetes: Marathon) April 13-27, 1989.)
Released in United States May 8, 1991 (Cinema 3; John Cassavetes Collection; New York City)
Released in United States May 19, 1990 (Shown at Anthology Film Archives (John Cassavetes Retrospective) in New York City May 19, 1990.)
Released in United States July 1989 (Shown at Museum of Modern Art (John Cassavetes: From the Archive) in New York City July 3 & 4, 1989.)
Shot in 1966.
Released in United States Fall November 24, 1968
Released in United States August 1968 (Shown at Venice Film Festival August 1968.)
Released in United States September 22, 1968 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 22, 1968.)
Released in United States May 29, 1991 (John Cassavetes Collection; Los Angeles)
Released in United States July 11, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive (The Films of John Cassavetes) in Berkeley, California July 11, 1990.)
Released in United States August 1997 (Shown in New York City (Paris Theater) and Los Angeles (Laemmle) as part of program Love on the Edge: Six Films from the Legendary Independent Director John Cassavetes August 22-28, 1997.)