Wednesday, November 23, 2011


If money were no object, and if a career were beside the point, I’d want to enroll in a film studies program at some elite university and spend my days writing a doctorate on 1970s world cinema – with a special emphasis on American cinema. No other era of filmmaking is as exciting to me, though people who pooh-pooh the current crop of filmmakers and look forever backward to the 20s, the 30s, the 60s or the 70s are not seeing the forest for the trees. Great film has been with us for ages, and is still with us. The 1970s, however, were special to me, because it’s when I started watching movies, and the movies I was seeing on our fledgling in-home cable channel were raw, unflinching emotional films that are now considered masterpieces. Those 70s films set the template for what I looked for in a good movie, and led me in the early 1990s to the films of John Cassavetes 

All this probably seems like a weird way to work up to a review of a film that came out in 1984 (Cassavetes’ “LOVE STREAMS”). Yet Cassavetes was so 70s, it doesn’t matter if his films came out in the 60s (“Faces”) or the 80s like this one. The man’s improvisational, experimental films about personal anguish, emotional train wrecks and self-delusion define what a masterful 1970s film is for me. This one, which I finally saw for the first time this past weekend, slots right in with all of the others and is every bit as good. “LOVE STREAMS”, the story goes, was made when Cassavetes was given a diagnosis of six months to live due to various internal ailments. He ultimately died a few years later of cirrhosis of the liver. This immersive, darkly comic film about a brother and sister dangling on the edge of insanity and self-destruction, doesn’t feel like something rushed. It is its own strange avenue in the art of improvisational film, much like Robert Altman’s 1976 “California Split” or Cassavetes’ own 70s films like “Husbands” and “Opening Night”.

If I saw another filmmaker try to copy this style, it would flat-out piss me off. It may be cliché, but it belongs solely in the hands of the masters – and trying to get a watchable, even revelatory film out of something so unstructured is no mean feat. Every time I felt befuddled by some dialog or annoyed by the non-linear nature of “LOVE STREAMS”, I found that another 30 minutes had passed, and I was still totally riveted. The leads in the film are John Cassavetes himself, playing a rich, alcoholic ne’er do well named Robert who dresses in tuxedos at all hours of the day, and cavorts with prostitutes when he’s not running from bad decisions in his past. Gena Rowlands plays his divorcing, fresh-out-of-the-institution sister Sarah, though we don’t know they’re related until at least midway through the 141-minute film. Watching them both in action makes one feel very, very good about your own sanity. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin, which binds them close together in many ways, even though it’s obvious that neither really wants to spend much time with the other.

Both are tremendous in their roles. Rowlands is always amazing, and she essentially plays the same character she did in 1974’s “A Woman Under The Influence” (a film I have seen five times and would gladly watch again tomorrow). Both don’t know how to act around other adults, nor around children – in fact, the two children in this film are heartbreaking, in that each happens to be the unfortunate offspring of one of these two. Even the other adults in this film seem lost and out of sorts at all times – Sarah’s husband, played by Cassavetes ensemble favorite Seymour Cassel – and all the irresponsible young things and the ex-wife of Robert’s, who all seem trapped in hells of their own. “LOVE STREAMS” has never officially come out on DVD in the United States, which is hard to believe at one level (it’s fantastic) and totally understandable on another (it’s difficult and is extremely unlikely to find an audience outside of adventuresome film lovers). I went in expecting to see a lesser Cassavetes work, like the barely-watchable “MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ”, but would absolutely rank this one among his best. Watch the listings closely for your local endangered art house, or dig deep on the internet to find a copy of this one.