DVD: John Cassavetes Collection: Shadows/faces (PG/15)


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The Independent Culture

"You look lousy," Dickie Front informs his secretary in John Cassavetes's low-budget gem from 1968.

This visceral drama, shot in grainy black and white, centres on studio executive Dickie's (John Marley), disintegrating marriage to Maria (Lynn Carlin), and his creepy relationship with Gena Rowland's prostitute, Jeannie. These are awful people, full of hollow laughter, bile and cynicism ("Friendship is an institution, friendship is useful"). Sometimes their endless babbling, is exhausting – particularly the drunken scene between Dickie, his pal Freddie, and Jeannie at the start. Faces is a difficult watch, but worth it for the unbearably realistic marriage breakdown scene between Maria and Dickie, which starts badly ("I feel very bitchy tonight"), descends into laughter about Freddie's love life, before becoming unpleasant ("Oh, I'm so sorry. Do we emasculate you?"). The next morning Dickie demands a divorce and calls Jeannie in front of his wife. Shadows, the auteur's 1959 debut, is equally uncompromising, focusing on the difficult relationship between mixed-race Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) and ignorant white Tony (Anthony Ray) in beat-era New York. Although Shadows, which is recognised as the first truly independent US film, feels outdated, it's also a fascinating documentation of a nation on the cusp of a cultural revolution.