Friday, July 18, 2014


I’m an only child, so the relationship between siblings confuses & intrigues me at the same time. I’ve always liked the idea that you have someone who kinda looks like you who’ll always be there for you or have your back, generally speaking, through thick & thin. As a kid, I loved the idea of the big brother or sister protecting their younger sibling and never getting in to trouble for it. As a kid I thought: "you can fight or, better yet, beat someone up and not get punished (by your parents at least) as long as you were defending your sibling?!". I wanted in on that. I also wanted that unspoken connection/companionship that I imagine comes along with having a brother or sister.
I’m also dumbfounded/heartbroken by siblings who don’t really speak, aren't very close or have some major falling out and they no longer acknowledge each other.

I think my fascination with siblings is a big reason as to why I loved Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell so much. It highlights a large immediate family of siblings, and, as I stated in my review of Stories, reminds me of my fiancee’s family to a certain degree (they're the same size as Polley’s family and are very close). I'm close with my immediate family but size-wise, were the opposite.
I love my parents to death but as a kid I was always the most enthusiastic friend in the bunch when it came to hanging out or having a sleepover because it meant I got to be around other kids my age for a while instead of my two adult parents who weren’t interested in playing video games or egging houses late at night (being an only child certainly has it's perks but it's also pretty boring).

That whole thing about only children always wanting their personal space is a bit inaccurate. Think about it - when you’re an only child you're around your (boring) parents more than anyone else. You cant wait to hang with other kids and communicate with people on your level. Another misconception about only children is our inability to share. How do you think we maintain such close friendships? We share & give things at an almost desperate level in order to have buddies. I think it says something that most of the friends I made between the ages of 7 through 12 are still my close friends today. When you're an only child, close friends fall in to that strange category where they aren't exactly siblings, but they're more than just  friends. thing that is true about us is how accidentally self-centered we can be sometimes. Take this write-up so far. This is supposed to be a movie review yet I’ve only managed to write about myself up to this point...
Based on everything I just said, combined with my love for John Cassavetes (one of my all-time favorites), it should come as no surprise that I’m incredibly fascinated by Love Streams. The relationship between our sibling protagonists in Cassavetes’ 1984 dramedy is strange to say the least (and the fact that the brother/sister team in Love Streams are played by real life husband & wife; Cassavetes & Gena Rowlands just adds a whole ‘nother layer for analysis). But what else would you expect from John Cassavetes. Whether it be the topic of friendship (Husbands); marriage (Faces, A Woman Under The Influence, Minnie & Moskowitz); identity (Opening Night & Shadows) or parenthood (A Woman Under The Influence), he's going to approach it from an unorthodox angle. But no matter what, he always captures the truth & realism that comes along with whatever topic he’s focusing on.

Adapted from a play of the same name (also written & directed by Cassavetes) Love Streams almost acts as two separate movies that eventually meld in to one. Robert Harmon (Cassavetes) is a womanizing writer living in Los Angeles. One random day he gets an unexpected surprise visit from his eight year old son (“Albie”) and has to look after him for a few days. Harmon is the last person you’d want taking care of a kid (even temporarily). Besides his brash attitude, inexperience with children & womanizing ways, he’s an alcoholic who lives in a mansion with a rotating lineup of random nameless scantily clad prostitutes. 
During all this, Robert’s eccentric/depressed sister “Sarah” (Gena Rowlands) is in the midst of an ugly divorce with her husband (played by Cassavetes regular Seymour Cassell) and is about to lose custody of her daughter. When Sarah no longer has anyone to turn too, she makes her way to Robert’s home to crash with him. Sarah does make herself a little too much at home (she practically moves in with all her personal possessions, including her pets), but Robert still takes her in. 

Robert and Albie eventually warm up to each other (there's a funny scene of them sharing a beer together) but in the last half of the story, Albie goes back with his mother and Robert & Sarah are now left alone to take care of each other. Beyond the fact that they're both fairly self-centered, Sarah needs help with her depression while Robert’s alcoholism and just overall lifestyle has gotten out of control. 

Of all of Cassavetes’ films, Love Streams is most connected to Opening Night (1977). Not only do both movies touch on aging and feature dream sequences/dreamy montage moments (something that isn’t really common in his work), but Love Streams & Opening Night show female characters (both played by Rowlands) in the midst of a very crippling mid-life crisis.
That’s not to say Robert’s life isn’t a “mess”. Most people who analyze/write about Love Streams seem to only talk about Sarah’s instability, when Robert’s life is just as messy. This could be seen as subconscious sexism/misogyny. We see an unstable & emotional female character and immediately label her as “crazy”, while her counterpart (Robert) sleeps with random women (apparently impregnating some without realizing it), gets dangerously drunk and hurts himself (and others) and it's almost looked at as cool/humorous.

John Cassavetes is often compared too/mentioned alongside low budget, hand-held, "gritty" & sometimes sloppy cinema, but his influence goes way deeper than just indie guerrilla-style filmmaking. It wasn't until I started writing this that I noticed how little things from Love Streams show up in other semi-recent films I enjoy about siblings. When Sarah first shows up at Robert's house he immediately jumps on her like a kid and gives her a big hug because he hadn't seen her in quite some time. In You Can Count On Me, when Samantha (Laura Linney) first sees her brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) after such a long time she gets immediately excited, just like Robert, and excitedly gives him a big hug in a similar fashion. That element of the dysfunctional (older) brother & dysfunctional (younger) sister from Love Streams also shows up in European-made films like Shame & Nenette & Boni. In Shame, Brendon (Michael Fassbender) & Jenie (Carey Mulligan) never mention their parents, just like Robert & Sarah, which speaks volumes in my opinion. And the way Jenie suddenly shows up to stay with Brendon in Shame is reminiscent of how Sarah suddenly shows up in Love Streams.
And I know how much French cinephiles love Cassavetes. Love Streams was fairly successful in Europe. I like to think elements of it seeped in to Denis' subconscious when she made the criminally underrated Nenette & Boni - a story about two estranged siblings (an older brother & younger sister).

Cassavetes' work is also known for it's spontaneity – the “improvisation” throughout Shadows, the bar scene in Husbands, Gena Rowlands & Peter Falk’s erratic behavior in Woman Under The Influence, Timothy Carey’s performances in Minnie & Moskowitz, etc. Love Streams is not without plenty of random & spontaneous moments, but it still feels a lot more rigid than anything else he's ever done.

My submergence in to the world of John Cassavetes seemed destined. During my senior year of college everything fell in to place in a short period of time. My college library uped their movie rental selection and they carried the pre-criterion DVD of A Woman Under The Influence (a film I had read about for years on various film websites but had yet to see). Shortly after watching that, I got a VHS copy of A Killing Of A Chinese Bookie at a local pawn shop for $1. Then, entertainment weekly did a special on cult movies which featured Love Streams on their list of 25 greatest cult movies. Love Streams was difficult to come by at first, but after working at a video store with a decent selection, I found an old VHS of it that my boss gave to me for free. I later mentioned to my father about how I was really in to Cassavetes’ films, to which he reminded me that I’d been watching his work, in the form of Gloria - his 1980 crime drama starring Gena Rowlands, since I was a child, only I hadn’t realized it (for some strange reason Gloria is my Dad's favorite John Cassavetes movie).

Love Streams may not have the same impact as John's previous work like Shadows or Faces, but it still left behind a small legacy and was the subject of the excellent non-Ray Carney book; "John Cassavetes Directs", which was coupled with a making-off documentary.
A lot of hardcore Cassavetes fans like to consider this to be his unofficial final film as a director (his actual last movie before passing away was Big Trouble in ’88 which was just a for hire gig/slash favor to his friend/Big Trouble co-star Peter Falk).
Watching this feels a little bittersweet. It's been documented in every book that touches on Love Streams but John's cirrhosis, which eventually killed him, was fairly visible in certain scenes. When it wasn't covered by a sports coat, his protruded belly (and somewhat gauntly face) were clear signs of his deteriorating health.

While this has a small cult following, of which I’m very much a part of, it’s audience is about to grow with it’s scheduled release courtesy of the criterion collection...


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