Directed by Michael Ventura (1989)
This 60-minute film is one of those items has cropped up on DVD “bonus discs” of Cassavetes’ work, most recently in the Criteron 2xDVD set of “LOVE STREAMS”. (I just now learned it’s available in full on YouTube as well). Michael Ventura, who at the time and afterward was a film critic at the Los Angeles Times, spent what must have been a somewhat grueling period of time documenting John Cassavetes’ process and work on the set of 1984’s “Love Streams”, his final “personal” film (as opposed to the Hollywood films he sometimes was forced <?> to make). Cassavetes had recently been given a diagnosis of only a year to live due to his cirrhosis, and yet remaining alive for another 5 years. Ventura managed to turn his time on the set and his interviewed with the cast, crew and others into not only this documentary, but a book that is literally sitting on my nightstand at this moment, as yet unread, “Cassavetes Directs” (2007).
By the time “Love Streams” - a magnificent oddball film, by the way, and one which I will write about in detail very shortly – was being shot, Cassavetes was not quite a “lion in winter”, but had at least achieved some measure of respect for his unorthodox scripts and approach, both inside and out of Hollywood. The film itself and this documentary was funded by the Golan-Globus team, two Israeli brothers who bankrolled dozens of Hollywood stinkers in the 70s and 80s, including the killer-bee film “The Swarm” (1978), the very first film I ever saw at a drive-in. Yet in this doc we see Menahem Golan pop his head up to praise Mr. Cassavetes as a break-the-rules genius whom he admires greatly, and at whom he’s happy to throw money, no matter how poorly the film will fare at the box office. I can’t imagine that this tale of a dysfunctional middle-aged brother & sister told in odd time signatures and often improvised made a lot of coin, and I heard nothing about it when it was out at the time, when I was a movie-loving high school senior.
Naturally, if you love Cassavetes’ films as much as I do, you’ll eat up getting to hear him (sort of) explain what drives him and how a John Cassavetes film gets made. He opines that he’s not actually in control of the film that gets made: "The film resists - it tells you what it’s going to do, and resists your best intentions.” He argues that all of his films are about love, and it extremely passionate in defending this as his core subject matter. For a guy who’s supposed to be dying soon, he’s remarkably spry and jittery, kicking tennis balls around with his crew and leaping from person to person with instructions, despite a gut/belly that looks like a bowling ball tucked into his polo shirt. Gena Rowlands is also interviewed repeatedly, and we get to see the making and rehearsing of a fantastic scene in “Love Streams” in which Rowlands’ character tries to make her ex-husband and sullen teenage daughter laugh with a variety of joke-store props. It’s clear that Cassavetes and Rowlands were divinely made for each other, and seeing the two of them rehearse a scene and talk candidly helps to demystify a bit two icons whom I’ve long held up as the gold standard for introspective and highly emotive directing and acting, respectively.
I’ve still never seen anything quite like the streak of amazing films made by Cassavetes, starting with “Shadows” in 1959 up through “Love Streams” in 1984, with perhaps one or two universally-derided mistakes sprinkled in between. This documentary lets us see, in full bloom and however briefly, what was going on in his mind and on his set as his genius was being extended from page to celluloid to screen.