I’ve been in Cleveland less than 48 hours and I’m heading off for a New Year’s in Canada. Eventually I’ll have a couple of regular weeks to establish some sort of routine, but until then it is party time, excellent.
Well, I’m back in Cleveland after a few days in Indiana. Three Christmas gifts I’m excited about include my new sweet-ass pots and pans set, my ironing board, and my subscription to Paste [it comes with a comp CD every month!]
The top Christmas moment was on Boxing Day when I came into the family room during the afternoon to find my mom, my aunt and my uncle all fast asleep and Matlock on the television.
Oh yeah, in honor of James Brown’s passing here’s a short film called Beat the Devil starring him and directed by Tony Scott. About the only place you’re going to find this film is on YouTube unless you manage to stumble across one of the limited release BMW Films DVDs. The rest of the DVD is good too, all shorts by great directors.
I think, maybe, that the correct reaction [at least in terms of the reaction Cassavetes was aiming for] to Faces is supposed to be loathing. It is a long, torturous journey through the darkest parts of married adult life, and there are no redeeming qualities to any of the characters that I can see. Granted, there is perseverance and forthrightness, but it only serves to feed the destructive paths all the characters tread.
There is a basic tendency in chemistry that liquids and gases flow from areas of higher density to lower density; hypo- to hyper-. This tendency holds true in Faces as well, but with the addition of human instinct and intent; a dangerous combination. Dickie, Louise, Chet, Jeannie, everyone feels emptied of meaning or fulfillment, yearning for the days of their youth, or the golden years the never existed. Florence is probably the best example of this in the film; old, dumpy and desperate, she throws herself at Chet and begs to be kissed, anything to feel a bit alive again.
The forced, raucous laughter, the endless drinking and smoking, the chiaroscuro lighting and staccato improvisational dialogue effectively force the viewer to face their inner disaffectation while the characters onscreen continually manage to avoid this very confrontation. My mother watched most of this with me, and she talked about how tragic everyone seemed. She didn’t know which would be worse, whether Dickie and Maria split apart or stuck it out together in the end. She expected a suicide, but made no mention of murder, so while she didn’t state it explicitly, I think she caught on to the fact that everyone is far too self-centered-obsessed to consider harming anything other than themselves.
So while I still never really want to see Faces again, I guess I have a respect for it now. It is a passion play with no pulled punches, frank and uncompromising. True to Cassavetes’ form there is little flash and glitter, only true to life experiences, most of which, in this film, deal with the seamier side of things.
I did a cheap hack of this YouTube WordPress plugin to make it function like a subscription to my vid feed. I’m sure there is a better way to hack it, but until I have a chance to sit down and examine it, the result on the sidebar will have to do. I’m currently redesigning from scratch, but the intended final design won’t be much different from what it is currently. I’m experimenting with meeting 508 standards and making the site readable on handheld devices in addition to validating as strict XHTML. I think I’m becoming one of those web designers…
I said I was dreading the Cassavetes films that I was going to have to watch as a part of my somewhat manic determination to watch all of the films in the Criterion Collection, so, of course, I ordered the two I’ve already seen from the library. I must admit that I don’t hate Shadows anymore, maybe in the 6 years since last I saw it, I’ve grown to understand it better, or I have more experience with which to rub it against; whichever, I now like this movie. I still fully expect to still hate Faces when I watch it later tonight though.
Shadows, like most of Cassavetes films is an improvisation. This is remarkable, especially considering the quality of the performances. What is also remarkable was the price tag, a feature length film made for $40,000, shot mainly on location in Manhattan, and something that, by today’s standards, seems much more real than reality television. There isn’t truly a plot, but there is a large event that the lives of the characters orbit. The three main characters are Ben, Lelia and Hugh, brothers and a sister, black or mixed, loving each other though fighting often. Lelia and Ben could and can pass as white in most instances and for the viewer this is even more the case, since Cassavetes’ choice of high contrast cinematography heightens this appearance. Hugh’s background is readily apparent however. Ben is a jazz trumpet player and Hugh a jazz singer.
Lelia is a doe-eyed beauty and all kinds of men are after her. She is deftly manipulated into losing her virginity to this guy named Tony who, when he meets her dark-skinned brother and finds out she’s not Whitey, gets a little nauseated and bails like a bucket. Lelia’s bereft and depressed and looking to avenge herself on some dude as a result of the bad sex. Ben and Hugh, in addition to doing their own thing, try to make her feel better.
I feel sorry for Hugh, he’s struggling as a singer but is the only one to bring in any money for the family. Bennie stays out all night and in all day, and his entire comportment is a mix between misanthropy and self-consciousness. He never plays his trumpet on-screen, but he probably bends that thing around his soul. Lelia spends all day hanging out with suitors or moping. I’m kind of making her out to be a rather unsympathetic character, but she’s not. Her actions in film-time center around a traumatic experience, but it is obvious from her manner of recovery that she is as strong as the bond between the family underneath.
All of the characters are fighting for something. Lelia to regain her balance after her innocence is destroyed, Bennie to come to grips with his place in a world he doesn’t like, and Hugh to reclaim a dream that has slipped from his grasp. Their struggles ring true, in dynamic counterpoint to the soulless discussions about Sartre and existentialism that take place at a “literary party” in the first third of the film. In the end Cassavetes has created a polysemous snapshot of specific people with specific troubles and made their lives applicable, understandable and real to those that watch it. I figure that’s a pretty good accomplishment with only $40,000 to work with.
• Criterion Essay by Gary Giddins
• Excerpts from Cassavetes on Cassavetes on the making of Shadows.
• More Ray Carney on Cassavetes and Shadows.
• Dan Schneider review of the film.
• A minute of footage from the beginning of the film on YouTube.
I signed up for a membership at the gym two blocks from my workplace yesterday and got up at 5:30am this morning and rode the 23 in for my first workout. I feel like I’m in the worst shape of my life, and I likely am, so I made sure to take it easy. There is a room where they have group exercise, but as none of the classes are scheduled until 8 or so, I have it all to myself for some basic calisthenics and happy-joy fencing footwork. I did that for about twenty minutes, had a good long stretch and then ran for a half hour on the treadmill and watched some dude stab an inflatable snowman on television. A set of crunches later and I hit the showers: without a towel. [This oversight will be remedied tomorrow.] There is also a room at Fitworks [warning: noise] where they show movies, a sort of treadmill cineplex, where people can run in the dark and zone out. They were showing Christmas at the Kranks yesterday. I wonder if I can convince them to play Criterion films…
One block from work is a CVS, where I imagine I’ll be getting my post-workout breakfasts. I bought some yogurt and granola bars today. Riding the gym, in the dark, on the bus, listening to Orion by Metallica, I felt like I was having a real-life training montage.
The city steams on winter mornings
like a spent horse
in the dark
lockers hold ties
and work boots
heart pumps legs
pump heat hunts for
restive beast called Cleveland.