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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Wednesday
Jan052011

« In Which You Have To Be Free, You Have To Be An Individual »

Emotionally I Am In Deep Trouble

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Husbands (1970)

dir. John Cassavetes

You never felt the camera. You didn't know where the camera was. Only when he picked up the handheld camera, and then you knew you were being taken care of. He really made love to you. He really knew how to use a handheld.

- Ben Gazzara 

In real life the screaming monologue is unusual, but it's the centerpiece of an actor's repertoire. Most interactions are less obvious. People generally put on more of a big dumb show the less they actually care, and less of a show when they care the most. Genuine reaction flares in the eyes but then most people try to cap it, because feelings like jealousy, anger and sadness are associated with embarrassment and weakness. 

John Cassavetes' movies are so good because they don't point at themselves. That's how they go so deep without tipping into pretentiousness or kitsch. The emotional moments feel real because they are subtle, and most emotional moments are subtle.

Husbands explores the conflict between personal selfishness and the desire to connect. The blocking is clumsy and realistic. Watching the three characters continually reassemble themselves in the frame is fascinating. The action always feels like it just occurs. All of the sequences feel like they are in real time, and it is as excruciating to watch uncomfortable events unfold as it is pleasant to watch the long bits of improvised physical nonsense. Cassavetes goes especially extra hard on himself.

Most of the movie is closeups, a dialogue of glances between the three best friends. It's a love story about male friendships and the ways men display affection for each other. Some critics argue that male romantic friendship is the founding trope of American literature, back to Huck and Tom (Gatsby and Nick, Ishmael and Queequeg). 

Male friendship fascinates me because it's not a thing I can observe firsthand without changing the dynamic. Although god knows I try. What I love about ensemble casts is that they replicate how romantic a whole friend group can be. I am so fucking bored of bromances. How hard is it to write a conversation between a man and a woman that resembles anything that happens in real life? I have conversations with men every day. 

Black Swan's shortcut around writing realistic female characters was surrealistic female characters. What do women talk about alone together? What does anyone talk about? Stupid bullshit trying to make each other laugh. Songs we've been listening to a lot. Sometimes we gossip, but if I've learned anything in life it's that men gossip the most.

Husbands is so great, so rueful. It reminds me of my other favorite 1970s borderline misogynist depending on your personal feelings about whether it's a critique (I think they both definitely are) film Carnal Knowledge. I'd throw Shampoo in there. They romanticize masculinity from a standpoint of extreme cynicism. Can you romanticize a subject and critique it simultaneously? I'm not sure there's any other way to do either. 

I don't believe that men are naturally worse than women. I worry a little that men might think that. They underestimate their goodness and our badness. Women are definitely not more moral or responsible at all. The most moralistic responsible people I know are all men. Men have more opportunities to abuse power, but I don't believe that women wouldn't abuse it in exactly the same ways. Ask Madonna's twenty year old boyfriend what he thinks. People with power use it to subjugate those without.

Obviously I wish there were more media depictions of how romantic female friendships are (we're working on it). I don't mean romantic like Black Swan, I mean romantic in the road-trip sense. Sismance is still a pretty small genre. Things depicting women are usually about female rivalry. Female rivalry as a media trope is way overrepresented and female friendship is super fucking underrepresented. 

That is what women really love about Sex And The City. Did they ever even want to fuck the same guy once? Isn't it crazy that they maybe didn't do that plotline during the whole run of the show? When they fought, it was always over something regarding the friendship, usually Carrie semi-accidentally being an insensitive jerk. Definitely those kinds of conflicts are more common in real life than cut a bitch catfights. 

I really like Mary McCarthy's novel The Group about a group of female friends from college, because I have a tight-knit group of female friends from college that I love more than anything, and I am totally curious about how people fucked in the thirties. 

I can't really put into words how much I love my friends. I wouldn't even know where to start. Husbands goes without dialogue for long stretches and just relies on the characters interacting with each other, demonstrating their deep devotion to one another in the most indirect ways. It is frustrating and occasionally transcendent.

I realize this post isn't really very much about Husbands, but I can't possibly improve on Husbands. I never have too much to say about things I just love, and I am always seeking things that will make me want to stop talking. I guess my articles are never really about the thing they're supposed to be about, and I improvise. There is a four and a half hour version I would like to see that Ben Gazzara says is his favorite cut. 

Cassavetes initially cut Husbands around Ben Gazzara, then made other cuts where he and Peter Falk were the principal lead, before ending up with the final cut where they are all represented equally. Thinking about your own life from the point of view of your closest friends will make you go blind. It's hard enough just being yourself.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She's on twitter and runs GIF PARTYJPG CLUB, and Google Image Search. You're sensitive? You can't even vomit.

"Ohio" - The Black Keys (mp3)

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"Tighten Up" - The Black Keys (mp3)


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Reader Comments (9)

Dude get out of my head

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSagehoe

this is my favorite movie of all time. as a gay man this makes tons of sense. i love the friendships men develop and a lot of my closest friends have been straight. gay men can have relationships very similar to women which are strong and definitely underrepresented as you said here. gay male relationships are often thought of as bitchy/catty "boys in the band" type emotional disasters, but they are often like sex in the city - in fact that is written largely by gay men and is very similar to a lot of gay friendships I've seen/had. i fell in love with all these leads equally and long for this type of dynamic in all my friendships.

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjim

How do you do this? Seriously. Every post is magic.

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHC Carr

female friendship is

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTess Lynch

agree with ole HC there vis: this is the hot fire.

January 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergil

I live in New York City and I am a journalist. I love you molly lambert, and this affection is potent in its being born of nothing more than YOUR perspective. One must, for purity's sake, improvise because it is in that boundless freedom, forged of fervid chaos over complex structural root, that the abstruse facets of the human condition are wrapped. Oh and i love you Alex Carnevale for your edifying lists and your thankful enumerations and your, from what i've gathered, founding of this webzone and it's predecessing wordpress.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpete tree

word on female friendships

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKara

Molly Lambert, you are my favorite. Can we have our own sismance as research for our respective future films?

January 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

THANKS, not getting this anywhere else

Having just finally watched Buffalo 66 and always looking for anything Carnal Knowledge/Men's Club I was ready to dive into Husbands but chickened out after the Casavetes fans on NF reviled it, but you've obviously #1'd it for me.

Men gossiping? Really? Straight men? OK, but when you eventually flip on that idea, I'll say I told you so.

Are the characters in The Group and say Stand By Me really friends or just people that occupy the same space? Really just asking.

January 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBP

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