A Woman Under the Influence ★½

In the temporary absence of the Criterion Channel, I checked this out from the library in its very old Pioneer DVD edition, which "boasts" liner notes by none other than Ray Carney, whose more-enlightened-than-thou essay alleges that whereas other movies are "about" stuff, Cassavetes' movies are stuff; one gets the feeling that Carney's ideal form of entertainment is the amateur dinner theater, the improv class (not even the public improv presentation; not "real" enough, maaan), the daytime soap opera. So it's little wonder he's over the moon about pap like this, whose only element approaching a saving grace is a basically competent, if overly shouty, Peter Falk performance. The film centers around Gena Rowlands as a housewife losing her grip, and unfortunately Rowlands is a terribly inauthentic, scenery-chewing showboat of an actor, and nearly all of her scenes are either unintentionally hilarious or pure aesthetic torture. Cassavetes lives up to his reputation in the sense that his camera and editing seem extremely unmoored and don't shy away from technical ineptitude, but this commitment to documentary realism hits a wall when it comes to the supposedly pure drama he captures, which is both badly, self-consciously performed and just generally broad and silly.

There are problems already with the theory that just capturing day-to-day life is enough to create cinema, though I'm at least sympathetic to that concept (I'm sure I've brought up the rotoscoping comparison before: by just capturing things as they are, you circumvent the self-checking and caricaturing necessary to craft actual art, in my opinion), but Cassavetes isn't even doing that, no matter how many irrelevant details about plates of spaghetti and "safety bars" on work trucks he may accumulate, because the events that unfold in this film are such a succession of loopy, over-the-top happenings as to seem ridiculous, which has even more of a distancing effect than Rowlands' dreadful performance. Yes, I'm aware that Things Like This Happen, but the way they happen here bears no relation to the real world, to real conversations or real relationships -- it only shows people at their worst moments, which makes it no less voyeuristic or exploitative than the "abstract" cinema Cassavetes and Carney railed against. Just as in Shadows, at every single moment in this film, I'm more unshakably aware that I'm watching actors in a movie than I am in almost any other major film classic I can name. I'm happy for those who have their worlds uprooted by his work, but to say it does nothing for me would be an understatement; it's pretty much the opposite of cinema to me.