Introduction to Faces by John Cassavetes
In 1954 I was an assistant stage manager in New York and in the same year I finished my first film, The Night Holds Terror. In 1955 I acted in thirty-seven live television shows; in 1956 I did five; in 1967 I made three movies, including a good one called The Edge of the City. At the end of 1957 we began filming a picture called Shadows, and that kept me busy until 1960. That was the year my wife had our first baby, and the year I did a TV series, followed by a quickie movie in Ireland. In 1961 — that was a bad year — a lot of waiting. In 1962 I directed my first Hollywood film, then signed a big contract with the same studio for some more punishment. In 1964 I left that studio and made my second Hollywood film, which wasn’t exactly a Hollywood film to start with. In fact it had a chance of being a very good film. But somehow it became a Hollywood film under the guidance of Hollywood people. This was especially painful because it was on a subject I cared about — retardation. From 1964 to 1965 I stayed home, looked at trees, at my family, wrote several scripts, and learned patience. In 1965 I took a job running a company — a TV package company — in partnership with Screen Gems. After six months of that, I looked back at my accomplishments and I would find only two that I considered worthwhile — Shadows and Edge of the City. All the rest of my time had been spent playing games — painful and stupid, falsely satisfying and economically rewarding. Then at the end of 1965, Faces was born out of friendships and mutual dissatisfactions.
Because I wrote it at a time when I thought the only free form of expression left to the actor was the stage, Faces originally was done as a play. Then I decided to do a film on my own again, avoiding any outside financial help or involvement from a major film company that might stifle the creative mind.
I wanted to do a film that would allow the actors the time and room to act. So I turned Faces into a screenplay tailored to suit the talents of some very special people: people who would turn writing into life; people who could communicate their own beliefs, in God, government, themselves, whatever; people who were not only starters but finishers. In my eyes it was the best cast ever assembled. And in front of the camera the people who interpreted the roles became to me a miracle of ensemble playing.
In addition, the technical side of the picture was handled by actors and ex-actors; Al Ruban, Moe McEndree, George Sims, Charlie Atkins, Carolyn Fleming, Don Pike, Pat Smith, Jimmy Joyce, and George O’Halloran. These are the people who worked like hell, not for rewards like money or fame, but for the pleasure of creating. From the day that we started in 1965 until we finished shooting six months later, and until the final print was completed in 1968, there was never any question of each person’s dedication to the film and to making sure that everyone concerned with it was satisfied with the way that it came out.
What makes a film? A script is only words and description — a shorthand for a life situation, an abstraction. The interpretation of the script and the life of the people within it are what make it real and important. A big passage of dialogue in a nervous actor’s hands is a traumatic experience and will end up either being cut out at the rehearsal state or, if shot, deleted when the film is edited. A big passage in John Marley’s hands, or Gena Rowlands’, or Lynn Carlin’s, or Seymour Cassel’s—or Val Avery’s or Fred Draper’s — is like no words at all: you’re not even conscious of the number of words being used, or the time that is passing.
Despite all the hysteria and the bitterness of all my mixed emotions at the time, writing Faces was a simple task. Setting it down on paper required only my attention and my recollection of people who had troubled my life. The result was a two-hundred-and-fifteen page treatment – a barrage of attack on contemporary middle-class America, an expression of horror at our society in general, focusing on a married couple — old-fashioned in nature, safe in their suburban home, narrow in their thinking. In Faces this couple, Richard and Maria Forst, is suddenly exposed to the moral decay of the outside, which they have unthinkingly admired so much. The script gives them new situations to cope with, takes them outof their house, makes business per se unimportant, lets them discover themselves sensually in the arms of youth, releases them from the conformity of their existence, and forces them into a new context, thatof the new morality: the classy whores, the hip and the hypes, the inside thoughts and reactions of their friends when their barriers are down.
With this script to work with, I set about directing Faces with the help of the previously mentioned people — actors and technicians. Despite the power of confusion that I am sometimes capable of, particularly when I would like the actor to discover things for himself, I couldn’t erase a certain gentle humanness from these actors, to make them as hard as the characters they played might have been.
The women — Joanne Moore Jordan, Darlene Conley, Dorothy Gulliver, Betty Deering, and of course Gena Rowlands and Lynn Carlin — interpreted their roles from their individual points of view, found reasons within themselves for their characters to exist. They spilled their emotions, and what came out was deeply innocent.
For the men — Marley, Cassel, Draper, Avery, and Darfler — it was not so clear. The brutish existence holds no dreams, and for a man who goes out into it every day, there is no signal of reassurance. And so our characters are forced into playing their power games, using what they know — business techniques — to verify their social acceptability. They make love with an eye towards 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.
It is this need to prove — this bustling, bravura ego — that fatally wounds the people of the picture. For there is no purpose in the existence of these characters, and therein lies their tragedy. No matter what attempts they make to rectify their lives, they cannot. Playboy magazine, tit films, and cocktail party diatribes have not only affected our society, but have shaped it with such discontent regarding men and women that sex is no longer in itself sufficient without violence, death, or neurosis as stimulants. The idea of love as a mysterious, undiscovered world has come to have no place in our innermost imagination. It is this confusing dilemma in which men find themselves trying to relate to a difficult life and their responsibilities in it that Faces attempts to explore.
Society must chuck its petty prejudices and false idols and if necessary start again from a new beginning where men as well as women can be kind to themselves.
John Cassavetes, Introduction to Faces (1970)