The Film (4/5)
I'll be forthcoming with the fact the John Cassavetes is very likely my all-time favorite filmmaker, and the only reason for me not going full stop is my desire to not declare any absolutes as I like to think my opinions can and will change with time. However, at present with all of his work minus Husbands and Big Trouble now viewed, I can certainly say his style as a director, combined with the drama he creates has touched me both as a viewer, and a filmmaker more than any other.
It is partially this reason that I have held out on watching his remaining filmography for so long, as Cassavetes passed away at the age of 59, 25 years ago this year his filmography is long since complete, and I like the idea that I have a few films left to view. Before Love Streams came into my mailbox it was one of three that I hadn't seen, but had long desired to. Now that I have seen it Love Streams is certainly amongst my favorites of his all too small filmography.
Love Streams follows both John Cassavetes and his wife/muse Gene Rowlands. In the film they play a pair of siblings both dealing with life's struggles albeit on a different plateau. Cassavetes plays Robert Harmon a womanizing novelist trapped in a decadent existence of drinking and sex, when one day his ex-wife turns up with a child he had not seen since the kid’s birth. Now he has to come to terms, for the time being, with being the Father of a young child, when he still acts like one himself. Rowlands’ plays his sister Sarah Lawson, a woman who is stepping out of a long time marriage, no longer acting the Mother to her daughter, and feeling alone for the first time in decades. Unlike her brother, she has to come to terms with her solitude, while he has to come to terms that he is not as alone in the world as he feels.
Cassavetes never really worked with traditional dramatic structure, and while the film can certainly be broken down into 3 acts, it feels less like the acts of a story, and more like an emotional arc taken by the characters. In the beginning of the film, we are thrown into the world's of both of these characters, the supposed sex and exciting life of Robert, and the end of the domesticity of Sarah. In the first act the two characters play out their arcs separately, and only in the middle portion of the film does Sarah go to her brothers home to stay.
One interesting thing to note, is how Cassavetes does not reference the pair as brother and sister until much later in the film after the relationship has been established. This gives the relationship both an incestual vibe, and also this feeling that these two are the only two in the world that understand each other regardless of what the other is going through. When it is made clear the actual relationship later on, the latter makes much more sense, but the former does linger through to the end. This, of course, is contributed to by the fact that Cassavetes and Rowland were a long time well known married couple, and to play relations on screen was certainly going to be a strange sight.
Aside from his debut feature Shadows, Cassavetes features tended to run on the lengthier side, and Love Streams is no different. The film runs nearly 2.5 hours, and for a drama this would normally feel excessive, in the case of this film it allows the viewer to get a real feel for the characters beyond the surface level. Love Streams was made at the very end of Cassavetes career, soon after he got a diagnosis that he only had a limited time to live. He would go on to live 5 more years, and contribute directing duties to one more film (the aforementioned Big Trouble), however, Love Streams more than any other work he directed feels like a summation of his career. Much like Tarkovsky's later the Sacrifice it feels like a love letter to the few fans Cassavetes that had followed his career through the decades, and a way to tie up all of his dramatic nuances in one final film.
I have yet to experience the Cassavetes Five Films set on Blu-ray yet, as I have those on DVD ,and not had the opportunity to upgrade, so the only Cassavetes on Blu I have seen up until this point have been the BFI Blu-ray releases of Shadows and Faces. Criterion have done a masterful job bringing Love Streams to the Blu-ray format with a splendid 1080p AVC encoded transfer in the films 1:85:1 aspect ratio. Much like the other films in Cassavetes filmography, the film has a certain raw look to it, which translates beautifully here. The colors present in the transfer are natural when they need to be, and bright and beautiful at other times. The black levels are solid and deep, and fine detail is excellent. There is a healthy organic level of film grain present throughout the film.
The film's audio is presented in an LPCM 1.0 mono track in English. The track is quite excellent with dialogue and score coming through nicely, and no defects to be heard on the track.
Criterion have included an truly immense slate of extras for their release of Love Streams, the most substantial of which is the 56 minute documentary made during the films production called I'm Almost Not Crazy John Cassavetes: The Man and His Work. It features interviews with Cassavetes himself, and also members of the cast and crew. The director of that documentary, Michael Ventura , also did the commentary track for the Love Streams feature film itself. We also get a series of interviews with Al Ruban, Diahnne Abbott, and Seymour Cassel. The latter two were crafted for this release, the Cassel interview was taken from a panel discussion. Also, included is a 24 minute video essay on Gena Rowlands and her career. The set is rounded off by the films trailer in HD, and a booklet of liner notes.
Big Trouble was a work for hire for Cassavetes, so Love Streams could be considered the director's true swan song. The film is a magnificent example of the power of Cassavetes filmmaking. The A/V restoration from Criterion looks and sounds glorious, and the extras are quite substantial and informative. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.