In John Cassavetes’s Husbands, the director, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk play Gus, Harry, and Archie, three middle-aged, middle-class suburbanites who come together at the funeral of their close mutual friend Stuart, and, united in grief, commence drinking together. And then . . . they keep drinking. When the sun has risen, they careen around New York avoiding their families and careers, and when responsibilities threaten to catch up to them, they hop a flight to London so that their full focus can remain on the only thing that matters: one another. The longer the movie goes on—and it seems to be composed of small eternities—the more it hurts. And like all the best of Cassavetes’s work, it feels as if every frame hums with astonishing life. No image or sound is ever employed just to convey information. Always, overwhelmingly, feeling.
Posthumously canonized as the patron saint of American independent cinema, Cassavetes did not generally fare so well with the critics in his own time. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby called Husbands, shortly after its wide release in December 1970, “a kind of private exercise that has limited interest outside the home-movie circuit.” But then, the following month, the Times wrote the movie up again, this time with a rave: “Husbands zeroes in on the real state of love and sex in our time.” The author was Betty Friedan, one of America’s most prominent feminist intellectuals. “Cassavetes, Gazzara, et al., I salute you as fellow liberationists.”
“It is a film that takes unmooring as its subject, and so Cassavetes seems determined to unmoor the film.”
“The filmmaking itself seems to erupt with emotion doomed never to find its context.”
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