John Cassavetes’ Love Streams makes its optical format debut after previously being released (in a heavily truncated version) on VHS by Cannon in the mid-eighties. This dual-format edition presents the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1. The dual-layer Blu-ray delivers the film in a new high-definition 1080p/24hz transfer while the first dual-layer DVD delivers a standard-definition version. The latter has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. Criterion presents the full version of the film, or, at the very least, Cassavetes’ preferred version.
Of all of the Cassavetes films Criterion has released on Blu-ray this may be the best looking one, a little surprising since the film has basically been missing in action. It has a fairly gritty and grainy look, but the colours are surprisingly vibrant (especially the “make them laugh” sequence) and not overbearingly so, looking accurately saturated, with spot-on flesh tones and decent black levels. The film is fairly grainy but the Blu-ray’s presentation clearly renders it, where the DVD’s does look a little noisier. The Blu-ray also renders textures quite a bit better. Restoration has been extensive and only a few minor, minor marks remain.
A long time coming Criterion at least makes the long wait worthwhile. The transfer is clean and natural, and most importantly it does look like a film presentation.
(Just as a note: late in the film there is a dream sequence where the film cuts to black and then cuts back to the scene rather quickly, and does this a few times. Stylistically this is unusual for Cassavetes but it is indeed intentional here. So no need to worry, there is nothing wrong with your disc.) 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion has gathered together a good number of supplements starting with an audio commentary by writer Michael Ventura, who also made the documentary on the making of the film included as an extra here. Though packed with information I found it to be a somewhat frustrating track in a few ways. The most frustrating aspect may be that he mostly reads from what I assume is his book on the film and Cassavetes, Cassavetes Directs: John Cassavetes and the Making of Love Streams. This makes the track come off fairly impersonal since it doesn’t feel like he’s sharing first-hand accounts despite the fact he actually is. Second—and this is an issue with all of the Cassavetes titles Criterion has released—he sometimes comes off as though he’s going out of his way to make Cassavetes come off as some sort of saint and not the imperfect person that everyone is. Even when he has something to say that may present him as, well, a “dick” (albeit a passionate one) he quickly circles around to explain how wonderful the man really was. It’s not that I don’t think Cassavetes was a good man, I’m sure he was, but I think most listeners will understand that when an artist is working on something, especially something that is important to them, they may be a bit of a hard-ass and there is nothing wrong with that. The few occasions Ventura goes out of his way to make it clear that Cassavetes was “great” are unnecessary and a little distracting. He also, at first, tries to wipe away the existence of Big Trouble (a film I don’t recall being mentioned in any of the other Cassavetes titles from Criterion) by calling Love Streams the director’s “last film,” though does, much later, bring up Big Trouble when talking about the last few years of his life, yet doesn’t talk too much about it other than the fact Cassavetes did want to wipe it from his filmography.
Getting past some of these frustrations Ventura does stack in a lot of details about the production, quoting Cassavetes a lot (though, again, directly from his book), which unsurprisingly involves a lot of F-bombs (his reply to the suggestion audiences may not understand certain aspects of the film, like the surreal moment where it appears a man turns into a dog: “fuck ‘em if they want answers”). He talks a lot about the history of the production, who was supposed to be involved but either left or were dropped because of schedules (Jon Voight was to star and Elmer Bernstein was supposed to do music), and also offers a couple of surprising facts, at least to me, like how the one final scene between Diahnne Abbott and Cassavetes was actually written by her and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. For those looking for any answers to certain aspects of the film or why Cassavetes made certain stylistic choices you’re pretty much out of luck. When he questioned Cassavetes on the black screen insertions during a dream sequence the director apparently responded “I put it there!” and Ventura flat out refuses to explain the possible reasons for the man-to-dog scene (though the booklet mentions it was probably an in-joke related to the original stage production.) Despite many frustrations, most specifically the fact he resorts to simply reading from his book, a lot, there is still some interesting elements and facts to be found about the film and the director.
After this Criterion next includes a series of interviews, starting off with producer/director of photography Al Ruban. He also spoke throughout the features found in Criterion’s previous Cassavetes set and some of the info there (how they met, what it was like working with Cassavetes, etc.) is repeated here briefly. The interview focuses primarily on Love Streams, though, with Ruban covering how the deal with Cannon came to be, and how the “corporate issues” (as Ruban calls them) at the studio probably hurt the film in the end. He also talks about the shoot (the storm sequence in particular) and the director’s last few years, including his desire to get people to see his films.
Following that is an interview with actor Diahnne Abbott who talks about her career overall with more of a focus on her work with Cassavetes. She expands on the scene she wrote in the film, mentioned by Ventura in his commentary, and how she brought it to Cassavetes and his reaction to it. This interview runs 13-minutes.
Criterion then digs up an interview from 2008 with actor Seymour Cassel, recorded at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland. For 12-minutes he recalls first meeting his friend, the “brother (he) never had”, sharing stories about all he learned about filmmaking and acting from him, as well as some personal anecdotes like the chess matches they had against each other. He talks a little about Love Streams specifically, stating he was glad Jon Voight dropped out since it allowed Cassavetes another chance in front of the camera. Of the three interviews this was easily feels the most heartfelt and personal.
Criterion then includes a 24-minute visual essay on Gena Rowlands by Sheila O’Malley. Entitled Watching Gena Rowlands it looks at her work throughout the Cassavetes films and the strong characters she was given, while also comparing these roles to her work in films by other directors, also addressing some criticisms that have been directed at her over the years. It focuses a lot on her performance in A Woman Under the Influence and Opening Night, breaking down specific sequences and pointing out the little nuances. It’s a decent scholarly addition, though sadly the only real one to be found on here: other than the commentary, which I was obviously mixed on, there is nothing else that offers a scholarly slant on the film.
Criterion then includes Ventura’s making-of documentary I’m Almost Not Crazy…—John Cassavetes: The Man and His Work. The 56-minute feature offers plenty of behind-the-scenes material, as one would figure, showing the director work with his actors—particularly his wife, Rowlands—staging his scenes, and the frustrations that would come from that: after cutting Cassavetes states what they got is “horse shit” but then follows up stating it’s “good horse shit.” There are interviews with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the heads of Cannon, and interviews with others on set. The most intriguing interviews are of course with Cassavetes himself, particularly when he’s talking specifically about aspects of filmmaking, particularly the difficulties of editing. There’s an overview of his work as a whole but it focuses more on Love Streams. I was actually pleasantly surprised by this feature, figuring I’d get something sentimental like A Constant Forge again, but this one is a little more even-handed and more journalistic in nature. Not entirely, but I think I got better sense of the man as a filmmaker here than I have before.
The supplements close with the film’s theatrical trailer and the included booklet features a nice essay on the film by Dennis Lim, which is then followed by a rather personal piece on the film by Cassavetes himself, which he wrote for the New York Times in 1984. The latter piece a great first-hand account, particularly in how he sold the film to Cannon, and you get the sense he knew the film would fail but he loved it all the same, which Ventura confirms when he mentions that Cassavetes stated “I love this fucking movie.”
I’m admittedly conflicted about the commentary, but the supplements are full of some intriguing information about the production so it might be worth a listen. The rest of the material, though, is informative and worthwhile. 7/10