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DVD Review: Two John Cassavetes Classics Are Inducted Into Criterion Collection

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HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 4.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Entries number 251 and number 252 in the most important and impressive series of DVDs in the history of the format, The Criterion Collection, come from the same influential writer/director, one of the godfathers of the independent film industry, John Cassavetes. Both are worthwhile additions to any serious film collector’s shelf.

The first of the pair is the half-century old “Shadows,” Cassavetes’ directorial debut. As the credit so perfectly says “Improvised/Directed by John Cassavetes”. These visionary films were the forerunner of the American independent film movement - creative people getting together with a camera to create art.

Shadows was released on DVD on February 17th, 2009.
Shadows was released on DVD on February 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Those creative people in “Shadows” were headed by Lelia Goldoni and Anthony Ray. Goldoni plays a character of the same name, a light-skinned black woman living in New York City with her two brothers. She begins a romantic relationship with Tony (Ray). Just the subject matter of “Shadows” was startlingly ahead of its time for 1959.

The relationship between Lelia and Tony crumbles when Tony meets Lelia’s brother Hugh (Hugh Hurd), a talented, dark-skinned jazz singer struggling to find work, and discovers the truth about Lelia’s racial heritage.

“Shadows” was shot entirely on location in Manhattan with a cast and crew made up primarily of amateurs. The number of independent filmmakers inspired by Cassavetes is too many to count. He proved that anyone with talent could pick up a camera and make a movie and that it was a team effort, not a producer’s or studio’s, that made the best drama.

“Shadows” is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a great monaural track. It’s so nice that Criterion doesn’t feel the need to take these low-budget mono tracks and turn them into surround tracks. Those hardly ever sound right.

Special features include the restored high-definition digital transfer, video interviews with actress Lelia Goldoni and associate producer Seymour Cassel, rare silent 16mm footage of John Cassavetes and Burt Lane’s acting workshop, restoration demonstration, stills gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes production photos, theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins and a 1961 article by Cassavetes.

Faces was released on DVD on February 17th, 2009.
Faces was released on DVD on February 17th, 2009.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Nine years after “Shadows,” a more refined Cassavetes made one of his most beloved films, “Faces”. Shot in high-contrast 16 mm black and white, “Faces” deals with a theme that would become constant in the independent drama movement - the disintegration of a marriage.

John Marley and Lynn Carlin star as the married Richard and Maria. They are miserable together and are constantly trying to find comfort from the anguish of their empty marriage by running into the arms of others. Another film that was daring for its time, “Faces” co-stars Cassavetes’ regulars Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel. It is a brutally honest, dark film that is a must-see for any film historian and the only Cassavetes’ script that would earn him an Oscar nomination for writing.

“Faces” is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with a restored high-definition digital transfer and a monaural track.

For “Faces,” all of the special features are on a second disc and they’re an impressive collection. They include a seventeen-minute alternate opening sequence from an early edit of the film, an episode of the French television series “Cineastes de notre temps,” from 1968, dedicated to Cassavetes, featuring rare interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, “Making “Faces”,” a 2004 documentary including interviews with actors Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, and Gena Rowlands and director of photography Al Ruban, “Lighting & Shooting the Film,” a short documentary from 2004 in which Ruban explains how he and the crew achieved the distinct look of “Faces,” and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Stuart Klawans.

‘Faces’ is released by The Criterion Collection and stars John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Fred Draper, Seymour Cassel, and Val Avery. It was written and directed by John Cassavetes. It was released on February 17th, 2009. It is rated PG-13.

‘Shadows’ is released by The Criterion Collection and stars Lelia Gordoni, Hugh Hurd, Anthony Ray, and Rupert Crosse. It was written and directed by John Cassavetes. It was released on February 17th, 2009. It is rated PG.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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