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Bill Callahan’s FACES Intro at MD Film Fest

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Maryland Film Festival. There are a few distinguishing traits that make the MD Film Fest such a unique experience. One of those primary perks is the festival’s annual collaboration with well-known artists to present a film of their choosing (past names include Lodge Kerrigan and Will Oldham). This year, Festival Director Jed Dietz, Director of Programming Eric Allen Hatch, and Programming Administrator Scott Braid invited songwriter/musician Bill Callahan (formerly known as Smog) to Baltimore to introduce his film of choice: Faces by John Cassavetes. Starring John Marley, Gena Rowlands, and Lynn Carlin, Faces is a landmark achievement in independent cinema that packs as much of a dramatic wallop today as it did back in 1968. As a lyricist, Callahan chooses his words very wisely (listen to his latest record, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, for proof of this). At the Charles Theater at 2pm on Saturday, May 8, 2010, Callahan brought that same craft and care to his written introduction, which he was kind enough to let us publish here. — Michael Tully

facesstillI met the cinematographer of Faces, Al Ruban, yesterday. He told me he didn’t know why anyone would speak to an audience before a movie was shown. I met his wife, too. She concurred. So, I’m respectfully asking that you not listen to a single word I’m about to say.

Faces begins in mid-action. A man already in the process of descending a staircase. Descending down into a subterranean viewing room. The man is Richard. As played by John Marley, his mood is sombre and impatient. He just wants to get down to the business of watching the movie. And so the movie begins. Faces.

Cassavetes movies often deal with opposite extremes. Love and hate, joy and misery, lust and repulsion, respect and derision. These feelings exist as one for Cassavetes. And these opposing forces are overlaid on the actors, so the actors themselves are double exposures.

There is no symbolism or metaphor—everything is what it is. Cassavetes tries to show life and people for what they are—the true nature.

And the result—the result is a Marx Brothers movie as re-enacted by the skinned, plasticized bodies of the Bodies Exhibit whose corpses are creeping around the country as I speak.

Drama and film are also two extremes Cassavetes works with. One is physical, one ghostly. A lot of the earliest talking movies were plays captured onto film. The actors were just this—captured. You get mad when no one ever leaves a house and hops in a car and is seen driving away. Trapped.

Cassavetes comes from a strong background of live drama and improv. In his movies he smashes through this wall between the physical and the ghostly, to make physical movies. Live movies. Movies that seem to be improvising anew with each viewing.

Faces holds you down underground in a boozy night that never ends. And when it does end and sunlight hits Jeannie square in the face, she cries.

Sunlight also finds Maria unconscious, as good as dead on the bathroom floor. But seconds later Jeannie wears the biggest smile in the movie. And minutes later, back from the dead, Maria is wanting a smoke.

It’s this unbending voracity for life that hits the hardest.

And now that I see I’ve succeeded in making this room as somber and impatient as the screening room John Marley inhabits at the beginning of this movie, let’s all descend that staircase and watch.

— Bill Callahan

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