(John Cassavetes, US, 1984, 141 mins.)
With press screenings in full effect and the official opening on Thursday, it's easy
to overlook the non-SIFF films playing in town. That said, you've got one day left
to catch John Cassavetes' penultimate feature at the Northwest Film Forum.
If you have any interest in his work, or that of the many directors he's influenced, like Steve Buscemi (Trees Lounge) and Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66, which features Cassavetes great Ben Gazzara), Love Streams is a must-see. Granted, Cassavetes isn't for everybody or, to quote Le Tigre, "Misogynist? Genius? / Alcoholic! Messiah!" ("What's Yr Take on Cassavetes?"). The answer is: All of the above.
Personally, I find his work both irresistibly compelling (the emotional rawness)
and discomfortingly off-putting (the, uh, emotional rawness). But mostly the former. Of the films I've seen, black and white jazz-inflected debut Shadows (1959) and Gazzara tour de force The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) are my favorites.
Of course, I'm talking about Cassavetes, the writer/director. As an actor, I think
he's terribly underrated, particularly in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (the ultimate controlling husband) and Robert Aldrich's adrenaline-fueled Dirty Dozen,
for which he received a well deserved Oscar nomination. I'm also quite fond of
his 1950s work for numerous TV anthology series, like Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Love Streams, meanwhile, may be flawed, but it's still eminently worthwhile. In it, the late filmmaker (1929-1989) and wife Gena Rowlands play middle-aged Los Angeles-based brother and sister Robert and Sarah, who have highly problematic relationships with the opposite sex--especially her husband, Jack (Seymour Cassel, another member of the troupe), their children, even pets--especially the goat!
The only people they get along with, and just barely at that, are each other. Cassavetes seem to be suggesting that if they weren't related, they'd be the
perfect couple. Well, "perfect" may be a bit of a stretch, but the implication
is that they could never possibly find anyone more understanding.
In real life, that seemed to be the case. Granted, the heavy-drinking helmer can't have been easy to live with, but I digress... He and Rowlands have great chemistry together, although you have to wait for it, as they spend the first two-thirds of the film apart, and it wasn't until the last act that I realized they were playing siblings.
Co-written by Ted Allan and adapted from his play, Love Streams gives Rowlands
one of her best roles and she runs with it. Sarah may be a loony, but she sure is
fun to watch (bowling in stockings, doing back flips in Robert's pool, etc.). As it's
a lunacy that possibly stems from actual mental illness, some have found her actions hard to watch, but I thought the humor of the presentation made her desperation to be loved--just to be noticed--a lot easier to take.
According to the IMDB, Jon Voight played Robert on stage, signed on for the
film, then dropped out due to "creative differences." It's just as well. Cassavetes nails the role of the endlessly drinking, constantly whoring, ultimately lonely novelist.
I've also read that he knew he only had a few years left to live. I don't know for
sure that that's true (bad dye job aside, he doesn't look sick in the film). Five
years later, however, he did succumb to cirrhosis of the liver.
In 1971's Minnie & Moskowitz (Rowlands and Cassel), Cassavetes attempted to put his stamp on the romantic comedy, but to mixed results. Love Streams starts off darker, but becomes funnier and stranger as it goes along, and Rowlands gets all the best comic moments (while her dreams provide much of the strangeness).
Unlike some, I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but I'm glad I caught Love Streams
on the big screen and would hate to see it get lost in the midst of SIFF madness. John Cassavetes, that "misogynist, genius, alcoholic, messiah," deserves no less.
Love Streams plays the Northwest Film Forum Thursday, 5/25,
at 7pm and 9:30pm. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capi-
tol Hill. For more information, please click here or call 206-267-5380.