Saturday, April 9, 2011

Exploring Cassavetes: FACES

Faces is probably my least favorite of the four Cassavetes films I've seen, but if Shadows has taught me anything, it's that a re-watch will probably increase my appreciation substantially. For Ray Carney, however, Faces is possibly Cassavetes' grand achievement and the ultimate distillation of his philosophy of selfhood as a process of interaction and even more potent than Shadows because of the force of its anguish and devastation. In Carney's analysis of Faces, he repeats his past mistakes of exaggerating his dichotomous view of cinema and illustrating how Cassavetes is an immensely more complicated and humanistic filmmaker than the likes of Welles and Hitchcock. Outside of a few explications of quoted dialogue, Carney rarely examines specifics and instead prefers to reiterate his grand thesis ad infinitum, albeit each time with a different modification of language. Ultimately, it feels as if you have spent pages reading the same thing, that the characters can only discover themselves in relation to the people they interact with, and that the downside of self-mutability is the danger of codifying one's performance into a stultifying formula.

Again, this is not to say that Carney does not have valuable things to say about Faces, but it seems as if he hopes to convince us more of his and Cassavetes' philosophy of life than the genius of his cinema. It is true that the more he writes about this perspective on human interaction, the more the film becomes clarified, but it would also be helpful if the film received more direct analysis. The most fascinating things he discusses are Cassavetes' refusal to condescend to 'lesser' characters, and his withholding of moral judgment of his characters, a key trait that removes him from the vast majority of Hollywood cinema. Also helpful for me is why he views Chet and Jeannie (Seymour Cassel and Gena Rowlands) as characters who have found out how to survive in Cassavetes' universe and are able to react to other people without attempting to dominate.

For me personally, the film lacked the slipshod, idiosyncratic endearment of Shadows, nor does it drive the theme of marital collapse as far as A Woman Under the Influence does. However, this is not to criticize it, as it only seems lesser to me in comparison to Cassavetes' other films. It remains a visceral, furious masterpiece that may be the ideal point of entry into Cassavetes' work. Its frenetic camera, band of performers, themes of collapse and self-annihilation, and rapid-fire conversations are certainly part of a whole, and each of these things exists in the rest of his work to some extent. And yet, aside from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, it's the only film of his that I have seen that didn't quite move me to the point of tears. But it is exhausting, engaging, overwhelming in its power, bleak in its view of human relationships, and, seen in the right frame of mind, potentially earth-shattering.

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