John Cassavetes Films
John Cassavetes’ film Faces (1968) exemplifies his loose editing, basic lighting, documentary style of footage. Cassavetes didn’t have a concern for the filming techniques that are most recognized in Hollywood and art films. He supported and focused on accommodating the spontaneity of his actors while still sticking to the script. Cassavetes’ films have a strikingly alive and spontaneous approach, which makes it hard to believe there’s a script to follow. His style of filming comes filled with dancing, laughing, fighting, and crying.
The film Faces targets two people searching for love and acceptance. This film gives a raw look at a marriage on the rocks. Richard Frost is seeking attention from a woman other than his wife, Jeannie who is a high-class prostitute. His wife Maria feels neglected by Frost so spends a night on the town with her friends and ends up bring Chet, a young playboy, back to her home at the end of the night. It is hard to detect the inner desires of these characters, but we do know that they both aren’t acting out normal behaviors, very similar to Cassavetes’ film A Woman Under the Influence.
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In this film, we follow a rural housewife and her emotional catastrophe mainly due to neglect from her distant husband. This also addresses the neglect and behavior of spouses in semi-dysfunctional relationships. Cassavetes’s films have a style that swims against the stream. Probably the only thing comparable between his films and any that I’ve seen is that there are actors and a script. While other filmmakers strive to exhibit human behavior in a artistic or extravagant way, Cassavetes shows just the same in a more stimulating way using bad lighting and clumsy close-ups.
I feel as if Cassavetes’ films wouldn’t be accepted or liked in the film industry today. He goes against all the rules of filming hat most people would just view as a lack of manners. His film Faces, for instance, started with no opening credits getting right to the point and not giving the viewers a look at who was acting as what character. Much of the dialogue was incomprehensible and every scene had its extreme high and extreme lows of voice and emotion. In the beginning of Faces and a number of his other films, there is this awkward moment that forces you to think real hard on whether this film has a plot or narrative.
Unlike typical Hollywood films, Faces and Shadows don’t necessarily have an ending. Faces ends with a troubled husband and wife in their home walking around as if nothing happened, after he discovers his wife just cheated on him with another man. Shadows ends with numerous questions like whether or not Lelia decided to keep in touch with the young black man she went on a date with, and whether or not Tony ever came back for Lelia. The ending of A Woman Under the Influence leaves the audience guessing whether or not Mable recovered from her emotional distress after being sent away for several months.
In all three of these films, so many questions were unanswered and left blank, and we have no choice but to believe that this was done on purpose. One disadvantage is that the viewer might become uninterested or frustrated because of unrevealed conclusions, but this can be viewed as being forced to use imagination and explore the possibilities. Cassavetes’ style of filming has so many aspects that deviates him from the rest. Cassavetes explores worldwide problems that might not be that common but are still at hand.
Dysfunctional Families, marriage on the rocks, human behavior, and difficult characters whose personal desires aren’t grasped easily. In Shadows there are two brothers and their sister living in one household. Not once in this film are parents or any other family members mentioned. Who I feel is meant to be the main character, Lelia, is facing personal problems in dealing with acceptance and love. Lelia is part of an African American family, and has a very unique light skinned face that almost makes her look as if she were Caucasian.
Much like the film Imitation of Life, Lelia seeks the same as Sarah Jane, to be accepted and loved by a race that she believes to be “better” and that she doesn’t belong to. Lelia constantly surrounds herself with her white male friends. Later on in the film she finds herself in a dilemma, whether or not to go on a date with a handsome young black man. Lelia agrees but with great attitude and almost as if she’s being forced. The night of their date she takes over two hours waiting for her to be ready and prances around like a spoiled brat. These are two examples of how Cassavetes films are very dramatic in the exhibition f dysfunctional families and characters’ desires, like Lelia’s, that are hard to comprehend. A Woman Under the Influence explores Cassavetes’ interest in addressing lonely people in search of love and acceptance, and Dysfunctional families. In this film a suburban housewife, Mable, is left alone every night with her three children while her husband is working non-stop as a construction man. When her husband stands her up the one night they had planned for each other without the kids, Mable has no choice but to feel disliked and neglected. This results in her trying to relieve her stress with the most typical stress reliever, alcohol.
Mable goes on her own to a bar to get away, only to find herself drunk and flirty with a strange man she ends up taking to her house at the end of the night. She wakes up not only to find out she doesn’t remember anything from the night before, but the strange man in her house. Soon after this she becomes very emotionally distressed causing her to do very abnormal things like flirt with her husband’s coworkers and undress her kids while companies over. From my perception, this is merely a result of neglect from love and attention. This is something very much needed in all relationships and also in life.
Bring this film to the table helps support the idea of Dysfunctional families as one of John Cassavetes’ concerns that he continued to explore. A scene from Faces that I feel exemplifies his type of work is when Richard Frost’s coworker and friend, Freddy Draper brings up question that changes the whole mood of the night while at Jeannie’s (prostitute) house. When Fred suddenly asks Jeannie what does she charge. He was just calling attention to what was taking place. During this scene all the different aspects of Cassavete’s style of filming takes place.
Once this is said, there is a extremely unprofessional close-up that takes up half the screen of the back of Richards head while Jeannie’s face emerges. In this scene, a cluster of fighting emerges and half of it was incomprehensible. This is the only time Jeannie’s voice elevates, and seriousness crowds the room. It may also seem that her acting became less pleasing because it takes more skill to play a serious role than a happen drunken one. Jeannie’s attitude also goes from a jolly girl who may seem down for anything, to a good girl that seems naive about what was really supposed to take place in her house that night.
The acting during the fighting scene was inadequate and not played out as well as the happier scenes. The tones in this scene easily shifted and were very heightened whether it be jolly, upset, or furious. This scene also shows Cassavetes’ style of handheld camera when the film started to shake a bit. The editing was fair and could have been better when showing the location of the characters in relation to each other. What still seemed a bit unclear is why Jeannie was so insulted and concerned about the fact that Fred wanted to know how much she charged.
Its almost positive that there was an arrangement made that validated that Jeannie was a prostitute and that her house was a nothing more than a business place. Jeannie reacted to that comment as if she had a reputation to ruin. It is no secret that John Casssavetes is one of the greatest filmmakers of American Independent Cinema. From the point in time that he started making films, the styles and techniques that he used were unthinkable ideas. From his bad lighting to clumsy close-ups, Cassavetes films are nothing but UnHollywood Greatness to me.