This page only contains excerpts and selected passages from Ray Carney's writing about John Cassavetes. To obtain the complete text as well as the complete texts of many pieces about Cassavetes that are not included on the web site, click here.

To read about Ray Carney's discovery of a long version of Faces, click here. To read about the press response to the Faces discovery, click here. To read about Gena Rowlands's response to Prof. Carney's Faces discovery, click here.

Despite all my hysteria and the bitterness of all my mixed emotions at that time, writing Faces was a simple task. Setting it down on paper required only my attention and my recollections of people who had troubled my life. The result was a 215-page attack on contemporary middle-class America, an expression of horror at our society in general, focusing on a married couple. [The men use] what they know – business techniques – to verify their social acceptability. They make love with an eye toward respect and applause, which will signify to them that life is more than just the office, that their moral ills and boredom can be cured if women find them attractive.

—John Cassavetes

Excerpts from a discussion of
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....Faces came out of one of the most troubled times in the filmmaker's life. In the early 1960s, Cassavetes had a disastrous series of clashes with a group of high-powered producers and executives on two studio films. He was young, idealistic, and inexperienced, and could hardly believe the way he was treated when he was fired from the second project.

But rather than forgetting the whole thing, he decided to make a movie about the kind of people who had made him so miserable. He made Faces to try to figure out what made these guys tick – how they could be so entertaining and so much fun to be with in some ways, and so awful in others. He wanted to understand what they were like when they were home with their wives. He wanted to understand what their sex lives were like.

He told me he was puzzled all the way through: he wrote the script in confusion and uncertainty; he rehearsed and shot scenes in dozens of different ways to try to understand how these men would have acted in a particular situation; he played and replayed the footage on a Movieola to try to figure out what it was like to be them.

But Cassavetes also told me that a strange thing happened as he went along. His bitterness and rage slowly dissipated, and to his own surprise he began to feel a deep compassion for these men. He realized things about their lives that he hadn't before. He began to feel sorry for them. He saw how unhappy and emotionally needy they were – how insecure and desperate for love and approval. He saw how they tortured themselves even more than they tortured others. In short, he let his film teach him.

That's what it means not to tell a canned story in the Hollywood way, not to use the shooting process to make a set of points you've already decided on before you walk onto the set, but to explore difficult emotional territory. That's what it means to humble yourself before your material, and allow yourself to learn from it – to use art as a way of understanding the hardest and most complex parts of life.

To do this is to grapple with genuine mysteries of who and what we are – not to be confused with the sort of thing that Hitchcock, DePalma, Lynch, or the Coens specialize in. There's lots of mystification in contemporary film – the deliberate withholding of information to thrill or titillate – but no mystery. The uncertainties in thrillers are always cleared up by the final scene, which is to say they aren't mysteries at all. Cassavetes asks questions that he doesn't know the answers to. His mysteries have the depth of life....

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The title of the shooting script of Faces was The Dinosaurs. (An allusion is still present in the scene in which Billy Mae and Chettie exchange "dinosaur" faces and growls.) The reference is not only to the savagery of the men and the hardness of the women, but to Cassavetes' belief that these characters were on the verge of extinction. Faces was filmed between January and July of 1965, two years before "The Sixties" were officially invented by the media, but the artist doesn't wait to read about something in the newspapers. The dream that the hippie migration to Haight-Ashbury was founded on, the idealism that energized the protests against the Vietnam war – the vision of a more sensitive and caring society, one that rejected the values of late-twentieth-century capitalism – was Cassavetes' when he made Faces.

Cassavetes' production methods, here and in all of his work, were an implicit reply to capitalist forms of organization. Rather than being organized like a hierarchical studio bureaucracy, Cassavetes' cast and crew functioned like an extended family. Amateurs and novices took turns doing jobs with professionals. No one was confined to a single role. Crew members, like cameraman George Sims or sound man Maurice McEndree performed other tasks like editing the film or playing bit parts in it. Actors, like Seymour Cassel, ran wires, moved lights, dressed the set, or painted walls.

Since most of the unpaid cast and crew had to hold other jobs during the day, filming was limited to weekends and evenings, which is why most of Faces takes place at night. The sets were Cassavetes' and Lady Rowlands' own homes. (He shot five films in his home.) Cast and crew gathered in Cassavetes' house in the evening, sometimes sharing a spaghetti supper together, and shooting took place from 7 P.M. until midnight most nights.

This way of making a movie represented a different conception of cinematic creation from the Hollywood system from which Cassavetes had emerged. The family replaced the bureaucracy as the fundamental model for interaction. Team-work replaced competitiveness. Care about the project and responsiveness to one another's needs were more important than individualism and star performances. The satisfaction of working creatively was more important than financial rewards.

Jeannie and Chettie in particular are Cassavetes' attempts to imagine a new masculine style of behavior that breaks free from the competitiveness, toughness, and emotional guardedness that Richard, Freddie, and McCarthy represent. If there were any doubt about Cassavetes' feelings about Chettie, it should be resolved by the film he made two years later. Minnie and Moskowitz uses the same actor, playing an almost identical character (slightly updated from beach boy to hippie), performing an almost identical narrative function to Chet's in Faces. Like Chet here, Seymour Moskowitz is presented as an explicit stylistic alternative to the dominant male culture (which in Minnie and Moskowitz is embodied by Humphrey Bogart, Morgan Morgan, Wallace Beery, Zelmo Swift, Jim, and Dick Henderson). In his press material for Minnie and Moskowitz, Cassavetes called Seymour "a symbol of hope."

The point is that even if he is the toughest and most unsentimental of artists, all of Cassavetes' work is stunningly hopeful. It's not only that Chettie and Jeannie represent ideals of male and female sensitivity and awareness that are alternatives to the business values and competitiveness of the other characters, but even Richard, McCarthy, Maria, Louise, and Florence intermittently display the capacity to break their own patterns, to find ways out of the emotional mazes they wander in. Cassavetes never gave up on the possibility of possibility. He never abandoned the belief that even the most trapped characters could come to see the error of their ways and arrive at new understandings of themselves. He genuinely believed one of the sayings his father used to repeat to him when he was a boy (a line he later puts into Love Streams): "For every problem there is a solution."

Unfortunately, as the ending of Faces tells us, and the past three decades of American culture prove, Chettie and Jeannie did not usher in a new world. Cassavetes was mistaken. The dreams of the sixties did not come to pass. The dinosaurs are not extinct; they are all around us. America has yet to awake from the nightmare of Faces.....

Breaking news! Ray Carney discovers a new print of Faces that contains scenes deleted from the release print. Click here to read about it.

This page only contains excerpts and selected passages from Ray Carney's writing about John Cassavetes. To obtain the complete text as well as the complete texts of many pieces about Cassavetes that are not included on the web site, click here.

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Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.