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Love Streams is a typical Cassavetes. That is to say the film is simultaneously intelligent, well-made, and unique while also being in parts infuriatingly structured, unconventional, and open to debate as to its merits by critics and audiences alike. While I have enjoyed most of the Cassavetes films that I've seen, it's no surprise that the filmmaker has so divided audiences over the years even despite the awards, recognition, and influence that the filmmaker has brought to filmmaking from so many others over the course of his career and beyond. Uniqueness and attempts to unfurl stories in such a different way can often be met by a wide range of responses.
Love Streams is in many ways the director's final film (though Cassavetes is credited with one more effort, it was a film he picked up on following the exit of another director and it offered him an opportunity to work with some favorite actors again). The film is essentially the swan song of John Cassavetes career in telling stories. For fans of the filmmaker, it's essential as an important part of his filmography to see the film, even if it's in many respects his least accessible.
The idea for this film is one that is ambitious and worthwhile. Cassavetes wants to explore the way love works and the way people interact and respond to it. How do people seek love, find love, and live with love? These are the sorts of questions asked in the film - on a level that is found with deeper analysis. However, Love Streams is arguably the least conventional of all works from its filmmaker.
The film's narrative feels less legitimate than ever before and has trouble exploring the story in a traditional sense. It's jump cuts are jarring and troubling for anyone looking for a more sensible flow of storytelling. The pacing is strange and uncommon even in the world of other Cassavetes films. It takes around 2/3rds of the story before there even forms any sense of understanding to the fact that the two main characters, performed by Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes, are brother and sister. Characters come and go in supporting parts that feel unimportant, while a number of other characters are more like symbolic creations of an idea than actual characters within the story.
Of course, one doesn't see a film by an auteur like Cassavetes just to see a ordinary production. Yet Love Streams seems to constantly want to fight with narrative storytelling conventions, so much so that I spent most of the time watching the film feeling like this film has more in common with later Godard films than a number of its director's other, more streamlined, explorations of human beings and connections.
It's story jumps around, focusing on the Gena Rowlands character -- who getting a divorce, is labeled as crazy, and struggling to win custody of her daughter (who wants to be with her dad) and the on-going oddities of her brother. Rowlands has an intensity as an actress that makes the character more fascinating, but the story makes little narrative sense and the character feels like an afterthought. Cassavetes, on the other hand, plays his part in such a manner that the line between performance and the actuality of the director on-screen can feel a bit blurred.
Love Streams makes Shadows and A Woman Under the Influence look like typical Hollywood productions by comparison. Anyone who has seen his earlier films without seeing Love Streams will find that to be a bizarre statement, but that's telling of how abstract this effort feels. The film that Love Streams has most in common with in Cassavetes career is Opening Night, another late period effort from the director, which explored the breakdown and disillusionment of an actress determined to perform wonderfully in a play she feared would be terrible.
In Love Streams, the character performed by Gena Rowlands is seeking love and acceptance - by her divorcing husband, by her daughter, by her brother, and by anyone she can meet and be with romantically. Yet the way in which these elements are explored is so abstract that one can't help but feel like the film simply tells a feverish dream of a plot. So much of this is due to a strange script and even stranger editing, where Rowlands travels by cab between her family (where she horrifically attempts to make laugh in one of the film's least pleasant scenes), and brother (who is so ridiculously self-absorbed), and other characters that seem to come and go within passages of the film and it's fleeting moments. Scenes sometimes go on longer than they should but then are cut strangely with an odd flow that seems to just jump the viewer around into a different setting.
On reflecting about the various mechanisms of the film more, Love Streams begins to make a certain sort of sense, but not one that is really successful. The film explores ideas in ways that Godard would be thrilled by. I imagine this Cassavetes effort would have been one of Godard's favorite films of the year it came out. It's storyline jumps around frantically even though when it's focused on a sequence it trails along with a snail's pace, the free-flowing dialogue makes this feel like the least practiced and most improvisational of all of its filmmakers work, the surrealism is abundant even within what is a seemingly realistic frame (a scene towards the end has dancing ballerina's, a bellow of smoke, and a choral singing that feels frenzied and bizarre), and the film asks questions about love that can be provoking upon deeper analysis but that at first glance has little to do with the narrative, which so often just feels like an assortment of characters traveling along their decidedly odd journeys.
Cassavetes also throws in odd questions about what the nature of having a good time is (with a bizarre opening sequence with his character), and strange lines of dialogue that never add up to a greater whole. In my estimation, Love Streams is amongst the least successful of its filmmakers directing efforts, but it's nonetheless something that can stir up discussion and analysis amongst film buffs and which fans of the filmmaker (and I included myself as one!) will want to see and explore for themselves.
In Criterion's included making-of piece, Cassavetes himself explains about expecting audiences to either connect and hold on to specific scenes or moments of Love Streams and not look at the whole, or they might hate the movie or hate different parts of the film and be disconnected from it. Cassavetes knew he was making a film that wouldn't fit every audience member's expectations or fulfill the quest for traditional narrative.
As I said at the beginning of this review, Love Streams is a typical Cassavetes: it's up to the viewer to decide (on a typical film by film basis), if such a journey is worth it. Sometimes Cassavetes manages to strike gold with his films and improvisational style and other times he fumbles his delivery on the way to the finish line, but there's always something which will resonate with some audience members while frustrating others. By effect, the end result of the journey taken is always interesting (even when it isn't).
Love Streams arrives on Blu-ray with an impressively realized 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film's visual style is represented successfully here, and Criterion has done a splendid job with this 2K restoration, which has properly preserved film grain and it's naturally filmic look while removing instances of dirt, debris, and being entirely free from print damage. It's hard to imagine anyone finding this presentation disappointing as it's a high class transfer in all regards.
The uncompressed PCM mono audio track isn't quite as impressive as the picture quality is, primarily because of its more limited dynamic range and soundstage. However, Criterion handled the audio with great care and no instances of distortion via pops, clicks, hiss, and countless other potential audio distortions with a film of its age were found on this quality presentation.
The release also includes English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing).
If you loved this film (and even if you didn't) this is where a lot of the wonderment in this release comes into play. Criterion continues to provide some excellent supplemental materials here with the long-unreleased making-of documentary (which was previously difficult to find) "I'm Almost Not Crazy... - John Cassavetes: The Man and His Work", a production which covers the making of Love Streams and which was produced by the studio helping to finance Love Streams. This is certainly a candid and fascinating look at the making of the film as it features frank interviews in which offer insights by the filmmaker about the goal of the film and the efforts made to create it. Running at around 1 hour long, this documentary is one of the most extensive behind the scenes looks at the making of a Cassavetes picture.
The release also includes a wonderful visual essay that was written and narrated by film critic Sheila O'Malley, who projects a great passion and love for the films of Gena Rowlands made with her filmmaker husband, Cassavetes. The piece explores her roles and her acting craft in exquisite ways and was a highly worthwhile inclusion on this release.
Also included on this release are brand new interviews with cinematographer Al Ruban, actor Diahnne Abbott, a 2008 interview with actor Seymour Cassel, a new audio commentary from writer Michael Ventura (who also helmed the making-of documentary on this release), and the original theatrical trailer.
The included booklet contains an essay written by film critic Dennis Lim about the film and a New York Times piece written by John Cassavetes himself about the film, and which offers more insights into the process and goals of Love Streams than the film itself may present.
Love Streams flows along like a stream of consciousness in which each sequence feels less sequential and narrative-based and more abstract and metaphorical than perhaps any other Cassavetes film. The acting is superb and the style of the cinematography and production is something that remains impressive but for some reason I had a hard time connecting to this effort, which in my estimation doesn't adequately explore the themes in which in aims to be offering a fascinating exploration of.
Fans of Cassavetes who enjoyed his effort Opening Night and all of its abstract ideas will likely enjoy this effort the most while those more accustomed to his earlier filmmaking style will be surprised by how different this film feels in a number of ways, even if it still contains many hallmarks of being one of his creations.
Even if the film does disappoint, Criterion's Blu-ray edition doesn't and offers a stunningly realized presentation of the film alongside another successful assortment of important supplements that provide additional insights into the film and it's auteur filmmaker.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.