Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Funny, But True

Love Streams
(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.


  1. One of these days I'll get around to looking at the NWFF schedule so I don't miss stuff like this.
    John Cassavetes grabbed my attention when I was about fourteen. One Saturday afternoon while channel surfing, I landed on this outrageous story about a girl and a guy who couldn't resist each other, but drove each other nuts at the same time, Minnie and Moskowitz. I see his "rawness" as humanist, the desire to portray something genuine. There is no one else like him. As far as his acting though, he said himself he only did it for the money to finance his own films. He is good in the Polanski picture, isn't he? What about The Killers? You gotta admit, for every good performance there are several turkeys. Ever see The Fury? Everyone always says he was a misogynist. I think he adored women and his brand of emotional brutality applied to men as well. You've reminded me I loaned my copy of the Criterion set to someone ages ago and never got it back.

  2. I've heard that, too. It's always seemed odd to me that some of the actors who like the craft least have given some of the best performances, like Frank Sinatra ("The Manchurian Candidate") and Sterling Hayden ("The Asphalt Jungle"). I'm not suggesting that they didn't make crap films, too; just that they didn't subscribe to any of that method/theory stuff. I have the Criterion "Killers" set. Yet another great Cassavetes performance. Then again, even Ronald Reagan's pretty good in the Siegel film! And of course, everyone's heard what Laurence Olivier had to say about Dustin Hoffman's uber-method antics on the set of "The Marathon Man": "Oh gracious, why doesn't the dear boy just *act*?!"

  3. Wanted to add that I don't think Cassavetes is a misogynist either; just thought it worth mentioning, since some do. If anything, he's harder on Robert, who's incapable of love, than Sarah, who's desperate for it. Also, in my first draft, I claimed that "Love Streams" was his final film. It was actually the much maligned "Big Trouble." Thanks to Bill W. for catching the error.

  4. when i spoke with seymour cassals back in the 80's, he told me that the director seldom hung out with the guys, perferring the company of his mother and her friends. sitting in on her bridge parties, he studied female behavior to the max...supporting kathy's, david's,and my own, contention that he was surely not a misogynist.