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The Criterion Collection presents
“I think I’ll loan you my sleeping pills. You know, I have insomnia, and I stay awake all night looking at pictures, worrying about pictures.”
DVD ReviewAfter bursting on the scene with his directorial debut in 1959’s Shadows, John Cassavetes waited nearly 10 years to make the film that is arguably his most visually daring. 1968’s Faces practically wears its unique shooting style in its title, as the movie is best remembered for the countless close-ups of his actors’ faces, taking his viewers straight into their very souls. This intense study of marital struggles garnered an Oscar nomination for Cassavetes’ original screenplay, and also nabbed a pair of Supporting Actor/Actress nods, yet the film failed to take home any of the golden statues. Now, The Criterion Collection brings this classic character study to us in the form of a remarkable two-disc set that is a must-own for anyone who considers themselves a true movie buff.
Richard Forst (John Marley) is an insurance executive who has a confidently professional stranglehold on the business aspects of his life. When it comes to his personal life, it’s a different story, as he has grown a bit bored in his marriage. After entertaining a prostitute named Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), Richard returns home to his wife, Maria (Lynn Carlin). The pair catch up, joke around, laugh uncontrollably in bed, then suddenly switch gears, fight, and one of them asks the other for a divorce. Richard instantly seeks solace in the company of Jeannie, while Maria turns to Chet (Seymour Cassel), a young hustler whom she’s met while partying at the Whiskey A-Go-Go. It won’t be long before Maria and Richard know whether these new, separate lives will make them happy, or if they are truly meant to be back together.
For nearly all of the movie’s 130 minutes, Cassavetes gives us pure visual poetry. His use of 16mm cameras gives him the freedom to hammer home the effect of brilliantly written dialogue by utilizing these filmmaking techniques to craft unforgettable scenes. He has a certain nuance in the way he lulls us into a sense of comfort within a scene only to suddenly pull the rug out from under us. The poignancy of the way Cassavetes turns these twists on us lies in how we often don’t realize we’ve seen something so emotionally shocking until a few scenes later.
The opening, post-titles sequence is pure brilliance, setting a perfect tone for the rest of the proceedings. Cassavetes regular, Gena Rowlands gives off massive sparks every minute she’s on screen, but her work in this scene is some of the best that she’s done during her unforgettable career. Rowlands strikes again during a scene in which she’s trying to “escape” from two clients. This scene starts off harmless as the foursome drinks and laughs almost uncontrollably until one of the men makes a derogatory comment about the prostitutes, and the audience is instantly left feeling on edge. Rowlands is remarkable as she tries to remain calm while still attempting to make it out the door unharmed. This long sequence is the epitome of the emotional rollercoasters that Cassavetes excelled at throughout his illustrious career.
This is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, from start to finish. However, for those of you who aren’t into dialogue-intensive films that run for more than two hours, this might not be at the top of your Netflix queue. Still, I implore you to give it a chance, regardless of your reservations, as while nearly every scene features nothing but actors talking, the movie breezes through its long running time. Of course, it helps that the performances are simply outstanding across the board, and Cassavetes camera work should be studied for decades to come.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen, the transfer is the result of a meticulous restoration effort that has the film looking better than it ever has. Thankfully it still maintains the overall look of a film shot on 16mm, as the technicians responsible for the restoration kept the inherent softness intact.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is also quite good, given the age of the movie, with near-constantly-present dialogue remaining crisp and clear throughout.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
There’s also an episode of the French TV series Cinéastes de notre temps that runs for 48 minutes. This episode focuses on John Cassavetes, and includes two separate interviews, one shot during the making of Faces, in 1965, and the other one shot in 1968, after the film had been screened.
Making Faces is a 41-minute piece that was shot in 2004, and features interviews with actors Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, and longtime Cassavetes collaborator Al Ruban, during which they talk in-depth about the production.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsIf you’re looking for an escape from the junk that Hollywood is pumping out these days, take a step back in time and check out John Cassavetes’ Faces. One of the best films from a legendary director, this masterpiece gets the royal treatment from The Criterion Collection, complete with beautifully restored audio and video and a separate disc of extra features.
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