Monday, October 1, 2012
#256: A Constant Forge
My Metier, the absorbing documentary covering Carl Th. Dreyer's career, was a little over an hour and a half long. A Constant Forge, covering John Cassavetes's "life and art," is more than twice that length at a full 200 minutes. Although they both made about the same amount of movies, I will admit that the core of Dreyer's career (the films he made from The Passion of Joan of Arc on) consisted of only six movies, while 10 of the 12 films Cassavetes made are considered the meat of his work. But still, even after accounting for Cassavetes's huge position in American independent filmmaking, Dreyer is undoubtedly the more dominant figure in film.
So what necessitates this enormous length, a length longer than any of the director's own films? Not much, in my opinion, other than the desire to cram as much of each interview Kiselyak got into the film. While I appreciate the structure of the documentary, which largely eschews a straight chronological telling of his career, the technique is still extremely conventional, with an assortment of talking heads, clips from his work, various production photos, and only the occasional video footage of Cassavetes working. There is also a voice over of an actor reading Cassavetes's own words. All this makes the movie a Cassavetes-fan-only release, and the full three and a half hours was not easy for me to get through.
Having said that, everything that is covered in the documentary is interesting and insightful with regards to both filmmaking in general and acting specifically (which can also be said of Cassavetes's work itself). And, really, if you're buying a five disc set of Cassavetes's core films, you are pretty much guaranteed to find this documentary to be a valuable addition to the set. So while someone like me - an admirer of Cassavetes who lacks an emotional connection to his films - would find this to be an overlong film with mild appeal, its inclusion in the set is a big plus for anyone who wants to go deeper into the work of one of the major cult figures in American cinema.