Saturday, November 30, 2013

Love Streams

LOVE STREAMS         A                  
USA  (141 mi)  1984  d:  John Cassavetes

I’ve never seen an exploding helicopter.  I’ve never seen anyone go and blow somebody’s head off.  So why should I make films about them?  But I have seen people destroy themselves in the smallest way, I’ve seen people withdraw, I’ve seen people hide behind political ideas, behind dope, behind the sexual revolution, behind fascism, behind hypocrisy, and I’ve myself done all these things.  So I can understand them...What we are saying is so gentle.  It’s gentleness.  We have problems, terrible problems, but our problems are human problems.
—John Cassavetes   

Very few great artists, other than those named Mozart or Beethoven, save what is arguably their greatest creation for their last and final work, where a gaunt Cassavetes makes his last great film, written immediately after playing in Paul Mazursky’s film, TEMPEST (1982), filmed after he had already begun to be ill with liver damage.  LOVE STREAMS is Cassavetes’ Prospero, a farewell to his art, using dozens of references from his earlier films.  Like Faces (1968), all the interiors are filmed in the actual Cassavetes household, adding a documentary element of family photos and portraits lining the walls, interestingly containing no hand-held camera work, a staple in nearly all his earlier films, yet this may be his most intimate film.  Unlike most married couples that strive for a sense of balance and security, Cassavetes and Rowlands continued to struggle and evolve creatively directly in front of the camera during the course of their lives, an outrageously courageous and highly original form of personal expression, with Cassavetes waving goodbye to Gena Rowlands, and goodbye to the audience in the final shot.  With it, a career of risk taking comes to a climax in this rich, original, emotionally immense film about a brother who cannot love and a sister who loves too much.  The film is adapted from a series of three plays called Three Plays of Love and Hate, with Cassavetes writing the initial segment Knives, The Third Day Comes was written by Ted Allan, while the third Love Streams was supposedly co-written by Cassavetes and Ted Allan, though according to Allan it was almost all the work of Cassavetes, though both are credited with the screenplay.  Cassavetes characters insist upon their relevance, they demand to be heard, even when they don't have a clue what they're about to say, like the befuddled Rowlands who loses her daughter in the opening divorce proceedings, something inconceivable to her, as no one could love her more. But she can't find the words and her loss is immeasurable, so she spends the rest of the film trying to fill the empty void from that missing love.

Initially the film follows the separate lives of Robert and Sarah, Cassavetes and Rowlands, parallel lives of loneliness and loss, where Sarah loses her 13-year old daughter in a divorce, losing her companionship and love, trying to introduce love into the legal proceedings, but there’s simply no place for it.  Looking largely disheveled for the first half of the picture, Sarah is a natural extension of Mabel from A Woman Under the Influence (1974), a hyper-emotive woman who tends to get carried away with herself, growing deliriously happy or utterly despondent.  Referred to a psychiatrist, she attempts to explain to him, “Love is a stream.  It’s continuous.  It does not stop,” to which he replies, “It does stop,” but she insists otherwise, which is the heart of her personality, driven to be liked and appreciated, refusing to accept the middle ground of mediocrity.  Recommending that she take a trip to Europe and meet people, the film turns comically hilarious when we see the mountainous pile of luggage she drags behind.  Robert lives in a dream house on top of a Hollywood hill reachable only by a steep, winding incline making a successful living writing sex books about women.  We see him visit a gay nightclub picking up Diahnne Abbott after hearing the club’s singer doing a sultry rendition of “Kinky Reggae” Love streams - kinky reggae - YouTube (2:10).  Robert never sleeps alone, filling his house with beautiful young bimbos, where sex is all that is real.  Life is one long champagne party of women and sex, where there are literally several carfuls of call girls who spend the weekend, most of the time amusing themselves however they wish, as only one or two are ever with Robert, who occasionally takes the time to get to know them, actually asking probing questions which are beyond their years.       

In something of a surprise, mixing up the drunken revelry is an 8-year old kid Albie (Jakob Shaw) arriving on his doorstep, who turns out to be a son he never knew existed, whose mother says she’ll come back for him the next day.  Needless to say, Albie is terrified at the drinking and lewd behavior going on, so Robert clears the house of everyone else while the two get acquainted, ridiculously plying him with beer, offering him the fatherly advice that by the time he’s 14 he should hitchhike across the country and discover “real” people, “not these guys out here with their suits and ties, but real men.”  What distinguishes this film is the heavy mix of humor along with the depth of realism and warmth of the characters.  What do you do when you’re finally alone with a newly discovered son?  Take him to Vegas, obviously, where you go out partying all night leaving him alone in a hotel room, basically quivering in fright.  But before they leave, Sarah is greeted affectionately on Robert’s doorstep with her boatload of luggage that arrives in two cabs.  There’s a wonderfully extended ambiguity about their relationship, as we don’t discover the truth until about 90 minutes into the film.  Needless to say, the Vegas trip is a disaster, culminating in what could almost be described as spectacle, which is so bizarre in its own uncompromising way that Robert’s most embarrassing moment turns into something poignant and perversely comedic at the same time.

One of the more beautiful sequences involves Robert’s date with Diahnne Abbott’s mother Margaret, repaying earlier kindness, where they dance and drink champagne in her living room, where she’s treated like a queen to the music of Jack Sheldon singing “Almost in Love With You,” Love Streams 1984 - Fragmento ("Almost In Love With You") YouTube (2:53), a Bo Harwood song also heard playing in an early bar sequence featuring the suave and debonair Ben Gazarra as Cosmo Vittelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), given a completely different texture, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie - 1976 - Fragmento ("Almost In Love With You") YouTube (2:10), but Cosmo similarly flirts with his girl friend Rachel’s (Azizi Johari) mother, where in each instance the mother used is the real life mother.  Returning home to a quieter, darker house, Cassavetes gently tells Rowlands, “Life is a series of suicides, divorces, broken promises, children smashed, whatever,” which is not in any way meant to be downbeat or maudlin, but simply an acceptance of reality.  From that, Sarah gets the idea to go bowling dressed in a classy black sequined dress and heels, where her response to the desk clerk’s “How are you?” is simply classic, as she’s bound and determined to give the man an honest answer, most of which is simply contorted facial expressions searching for the truth.  Of course, she’s a sensation wearing no shoes on lane 13, meeting Ken (John Roselius), returning home with renewed exuberance, where the two of them sit down and discuss the idea of love as art.  Sarah, however, refuses to abandon her romantic dreams about love, and in a brilliant conversational climax, defends her ex-husband, who no longer loves her and is giving her nothing but grief, telling Robert, “We’re talking about a man who put food on the table, who held my hand in the hospital, who cried when his baby was born.  Where were you?” 

Sarah’s way of providing balance to their lives is returning in a cab one afternoon with two miniature horses, a goat, a parrot, chickens, a duck, and a dog named Jim, but swoons in a spell when Robert doesn’t seem to appreciate the gesture.  Feeling miserable and disconsolate, barely able to move, Sarah has two extraordinary dream sequences while a storm rages outside and Robert, the Ancient Mariner, lovingly gathers up all the animals, providing them a shelter from the storm.  The first dream is one of Rowlands’ greatest scenes, tragically obsessed with the idea of making her daughter and ex-husband happy, she performs a burlesque comedy routine, trying every cheap vaudeville gag, fake mustard and ketchup, water spurting out of flowers and pens, fake eyeballs on springs, funny glasses, but gets nothing, despite the fact she is simply sensational, she gets no reaction from either one of them.  Her second dream is more surreal, LOVE STREAMS de John Cassavetes - Extrait - Le reve merveilleux de Sarah (Gena Rowlands) YouTube (4:58), an intriguing Stephen Sondheim style song staged like something out of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), a small autobiographical operetta where her daughter’s feelings are being tugged back and forth between the mother and father, with Sarah on one side of the stage and her husband on the other, the spotlight shines on Sarah in a haunting, classical image of beauty and motherly love, where her daughter is seen as one of the dancing Degas ballet girls. 

Meanwhile, Cassavetes comically gathering all the animals is a bit like Rowlands’ earlier luggage scenes, where they are carrying their emotional baggage like an added weight on their shoulders.  Cassavetes, however, has the presence of mind to use the back door for comedy, so reminiscent of WC Fields’ “Not a fit night out for man or beast” in 1933 The Fatal Glass Of Beer (W. C. Fields) - YouTube (18:32), as each time they open it to the raging storm outside, Robert stumbles in out of the deluge with another animal.  Despite the howling storm, Sarah resolves to make something of her life right then and there, claiming sudden family clarity, not waiting another moment, while Robert urges her to never go back to any man that doesn’t love her and to stay and live with him.  But to the music of Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh’s “Where Are You” MILDRED BAILEY - Where Are You (1937) - YouTube  (3:15), “Must I go on pretending, where is that happy ending, where are you?” Rowlands is whisked away in a cab as Robert waves goodbye to his sister, framed in a windowsill, his image distorted by the rain.  Of  interest, there is no trace of a play in this film, arguably Cassavetes’ best and most accessible film, no dialogue driven moments, instead the occasional improvisational bursts offer needed energy to Cassavetes’ free-wheeling style, briskly moving between sequences where both Cassavetes and Rowlands offer such rare emotional authenticity, creating a cinematic farewell that will forever be beautiful and heartbreaking.  

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