Apr 4, 2011

DVD Review: Minnie And Moskowitz [12]

With 24FPS growing in ambition and reach I've taken the pretty momentous decision to, for the first time in the site's nearly two and a half year existence, add a new writer to the roster. From now on, Contributing Editor Michael Ewins (who also writes for MultiMediaMouth, and his own, excellent, site E-Film Blog) will be contributing regular DVD reviews to the site. Give him a great welcome with this, his first review for 24FPS.

DIR: John Cassavettes
Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel) likes Bogart movies. He probably likes them because they help him escape from his ordinary existence parking cars and floating between bars, trying to make friends with all the wrong people. At the beginning of the film he has an abrasive encounter with a drunken man in a diner; you get the feeling the drunk's a regular. "Bunch of lonely people going in, looking up" is how he describes the cinema. On the basis of this film, he might be right.

Museum curator Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands) loves Bogart movies too, but her loneliness forces her to think that Hollywood has conspired against her. After all, when is love ever like in the movies? Minnie is a born romantic, but she's in an abusive affair with a married man (Cassavetes himself, uncredited, in a slimily hateful role) and she's fallen out of favour with the world. One day she's on an awkward blind date with Zelmo (Val Avery), a self-obsessed, talkative loner who condemns himself with his own preferences; "do y'know, the people who listen continuously are much more fascinating than people who talk." It's at this diner where Minnie meets Moskowitz and an idiosyncratic romance begins... like the sort you'd find in movies. Except that is isn't, because most movies care about their characters a little more than this one does...

This was my first Cassavetes, and it was a mixed experience, so I'll start with the good stuff. The way Cassavetes approaches his characters is raw and realistic. He's not one for manipulation or sentiment, and you get the impression that many scenarios were improvised. If this isn't the case then it's an even greater testament to his skill with actors, and the performances by Cassel and Rowlands are excellent. Rowlands stands out, especially in the museum scene where her lover breaks off their affair. In close-up her face shifts from surprise to horror, shock to anger and finally to heartbreak. It's an acting masterclass compacted into a minute of screen-time and I might even recommend the film just for that moment. The screenplay is also layered with character, and every scene has breathing room. The problem lies in the fact that none of the characters are really very likable. At all. The aforementioned blind date is especially horrible. It ends with Zelmo shouting abuse at Minnie in the Car Park - Moskowitz intervenes and ends up hitting the man repeatedly (Zelmo landed the first blow, however). He runs off to get his truck, pulling up to Minnie and shouting "Get in!" Surprisingly, she does, and they both leave the lonely man bleeding, shouting out "What did I ever do?" I found the scene deeply uncomfortable, but I think in a way which was unintended.

Another problem is the editing, which rather than building up a rhythm cuts scenes in the middle of sentences or changes scenario just as the previous one is reaching its logical conclusion. I tried to think of it in terms of being experimental; playing with narrative form and seeing if our subconscious would add the unspoken words. But that doesn't work, because the scene cut-offs are so abrupt they just disorient the viewer, and leave them hanging. Emotional engagement becomes even harder as we're frequently being torn from one scenario to another without fluidity or consistency. I'd heard Cassavetes referred to as self-indulgent, and I'm torn on that argument. He's clearly attacking Hollywood and the cosiness of its cinema, and his jagged editing and bleak tone certainly seems difficult for the sake of being difficult. But if he wanted to draw attention to himself, why would he cast himself in the role of the abusive male chauvinist?

Minnie And Moskowitz is apparently one of Cassavetes' lighter films, but from the beatings to the repressed rage, the unrequited love and wandering loneliness, I saw little evidence to tag this film with the word 'light' in any regard. I've said many times before that a film presenting unlikable characters is not a fundamental problem in itself, but the way the filmmaker asks us to engage with them is. I think Cassavetes wants us to feel sorry for these people; to empathize with their flaws, and wish for them to be together. I wished for them to seek therapy... they need it more than each other.

The Disc/Extras
The film looks perfectly fine on DVD. There is some grain to the image in some of the night-set scenes but in a way that serves the grit and emptiness of those scenarios. This may seem an odd thing to say, but it looks exactly the way I want a 70s film to look. The only extra is the original trailer, something of a disappointment.

Minnie and Moskowitz is released on UK DVD today. If you would like to buy this film, and help out 24FPS at the same time, please use the link below. Thanks.

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