Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Love Streams (1984)

Love Streams is an autobiographical documentary about John Cassavetes drinking himself to death. Financed by the esteemed Cannon Films, Cassavetes was given free rein to do whatever the hell he wanted, and the result is one of the greatest independent films to ever come out of Los Angeles.

Works of postmodernism such as this were unusual in America before the ’90s, so the support of a studio accustomed to producing overcooked Hollywood schlock makes the flick doubly unusual.

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Before the discussion of the movie, I would like to address its French poster. This poster makes it look like an explosive action thriller. That’s not right. This is one of the films Cassavetes made at his house. Not one geyser erupts in the film, if that’s what the poster is trying to show.

Love Streams is not a traditional film. John Cassavetes directs and stars as a rich drunk estranged from his family. In other words, himself. None of the characters take anything too seriously except for his 11-year-old son, who is constantly crying and traumatized by his father’s antics.

The plot is all over the place but never bombastic. It is what a screenwriter might call a “miniplot” or a “European plot”. Love Streams is definitely American, I think. It seems to take place in America, though I don’t know where the director imagined he was during production. Long takes of awkward laughter, abrupt cuts, and details at all depths from the lens make for a viewing experience that demands your attention lest it slip by you.

The plot, if there is any, centers around John Cassavetes and his deranged sister, played by his real-life wife Gena Rowlands. She is going through a divorce with her mustached troll of a husband, played by Seymour Cassel. Cassel is the coolest customer in the film, playing the dryly rational foil to the eccentric duo.

In my opinion, one weak point of the movie is when Gena takes a trip to Europe but never leaves the airport. There is a long take where she tries to get a French bagboy to help with her luggage. The shot is wide, the lighting is dark, and it drags a bit. When that’s over, there is a hallucinatory interlude wherein she kills her family. It’s certainly a welcome departure from the pace of the previous sequence.

So goes the rest of the film. There are several interludes and breaks from the drama, and breaks from those breaks. By the end, Gena gets more or less what she wants, and John drinks and forgets everything. Overall, the audience is left mostly satisfied. When a Cannon film such as this gets a Criterion Collection release, the minds behind the film could only have been at the top of their game.