Sunday, 4 November 2012

Husbands (1970)

OK, this might not be to everyone’s tastes. Some may say it’s self-indulgent or perhaps just a show-offy excuse for the actors to flex their thespian muscles. I’ll struggle to argue against either of those accusations but at the same time I can’t help loving it.

The film starts with a death. A friend of Archie (Peter Falk), Ben Gazarra (Harry), and Gus (John Cassavetes) falls victim to the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking lifestyle that they all embrace. The three remaining friends deal with it by heavily drinking and smoking their way through the process of mourning. This magnificent binge carries them from the funeral in New York all the way to London, where they try to drink, gamble and womanise the pain away. It’s also a doomed attempt at shirking the responsibility that comes with middle age.

This triumvirate of acting talent burn up the screen. The three men spar with one another relentlessly – there are struggles of power as each attempts to out ‘Alpha’ the others. Archie and Gus often cruelly gang up on Harry lending credence to the maxim of three being a crowd. They argue, fight and giggle in such an authentic way it feels more documentary than a work of fiction. Some scenes don’t even seem to have a point but it’s so raw and vibrant it does make for compelling viewing. It’s a great drunk film too, capturing the highs, lows and general messiness of a marathon sesh.

It’s often uncomfortable viewing. Scenes run longer than the perceived wisdom might rule. And I mean much longer. You might even describe them as gruelling. But within these scenes appear moments that are just solid gold.

Although barely into the decade - unselfconsciously styled against a backdrop of real locations - it’s a wonderful window to the seventies. As with all of Casavettes’ work there is nothing neat about the film. In a true reflection of life itself, it is scrappy and chaotic with no loose ends conveniently tied up.

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