Gena Rowlands, John Marley, Faces
After playing Mia Farrow's husband in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968), John Cassavetes reportedly threw the money he made as an actor into the finishing touches on Faces, a personal project he had begun filming in 1966. Cassavetes spent months (some sources say a couple of years) editing the film into a “manageable” six hours, and eventually into its final 130 minutes.
Silent-film maverick Erich von Stroheim would have been proud of him – at least in regard to Faces' (initial) length and to Cassavetes' committed auteurship. Now, would the irascible Stroheim have approved of the frequently inaudible dialogue, sloppy editing, poor lighting, careless camera placement, and faux-naturalistic acting? Probably not.
Shot in 16mm – that looks like poorly developed Super 8 – black and white, Faces is John Cassavetes' home movie from hell. When its characters began boozing it up, I felt like having a soothing drink as well. When they got philosophical, my mind went numb. When they screamed out of despair, I screamed, too – out of sheer boredom. Ah, I probably should add here that Faces is considered one of the greatest American releases of the 1960s.
The movie begins as a group of film executives get together to watch their newest effort: Faces. Now, before I proceed, I should mention that the “innovative” cinematic trick of having the main storyline be a film within a film can be seen at least as early as 1940. That was when Michel Simon, Ramon Novarro, Jacqueline Delubac, Micheline Presle, Sylvie, and Louis Jourdan all played characters in a movie/life within a movie/fantasy in Marcel L'Herbier's unjustly forgotten La Comédie du bonheur.
Back to Faces (spoilers ahead): We then see two drunk, middle-aged businessmen babbling the night away in the company of a high-class prostitute. One of the men, Freddie (Fred Draper), is an insufferable bore who has strong misogynistic tendencies; the other, Richard (John Marley), a married man, develops feelings for the sex worker, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands).
Richard's fourteen-year marriage has been suffering from chronic ennui for some time, and the cool, experienced Jeannie arises his long dormant spirit. It doesn't take long before Richard returns to Jeannie's home for more fun and games – plus some nasty arguments with a few of her drunk, woman-hating clients.
Meanwhile, Richard's much younger though equally bored wife, Maria (Robert Altman's former secretary Lynn Carlin), decides that she needs some excitement of her own. Joined by a group of female friends, she goes to a club where she meets a nice young man, Chet (Seymour Cassel).
Later in the evening at Maria's home, the women try to figure out who's going to bed with their eager-to-please guest. Maria is the lucky one. Their night of sex and physical solace is followed by a morning of guilt and emotional turmoil on Maria's part. That unplesant combination leads to a suicide attempt. She is saved by Chet, who slaps her some and then hands her a cigarette. He also tells her that “nobody has the time to be vulnerable to each other.”
Eventually, husband and wife are left to their still empty – though radically changed – selves.
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FACES (1968). Dir. / Scr.: John Cassavetes. Cast: John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Fred Draper, Seymour Cassel, Val Avery.