Faces and Jeans – Processes of exclusion

Deana’s poetry class on unusual poetic forms started with a thought from Paul Valery – the best work keeps its secret longest. 

Our first exercise of the morning was to write “How to” poems. Deana called this our “compost heap”, from which we experimented with Palindromes, Golden Shovels, and reordered lines. I found that, the more sparse and temporally unorthodox the poem, the more mysterious and intense it grew. 

I love slow reveals. Particularly ones that err toward discomforting the viewer. Recently, I watched John Cassavetes’ film Faces

The film depicts the escapades of a suburban couple, mid-marriage-breakdown, as they find solace in the arms of other people. It is a howling, cruel watch that needs multiple viewing. The DVD release came with an 18-min alternative opening sequence.

Watching both versions really hammered home the power of iteration and allowing for mystery.

The original version begins with a man, Richard, in a film screening. Richard proceeds to be in the film that he is watching. Richard, another man, and a woman get into a car. They swig alcohol, drive to a house and continue to dance and drink. Facts are revealed ad hoc in vacuous free-wheeling dialogue. We come to learn that Richard is married, the woman Jeannie is reliant on older men for money, and the other man is Richard’s friend. 

By contrast, the alternative 18-min opening starts with Richard and his wife Marie in bed. They laugh then turn away from each other in mirthless hate. The film-within-a-film starts again, but this time we see Richard, accompanied by his friend, first meet Jeannie  – a scene entirely cut from the final film – before they drive home.

In this extended opening, the drama is spelled out from the start. Relationships are clear and the heat of the unknown, of exclusion, is lost in the process. Thankfully Cassavetes saved this version for DVD only, and left us an ambiguous, uncertain Faces that heaves with emotion.

Michel Gondry’s 1993 Levi’s ‘Drugstore’ ad is also a masterclass in keeping secrets for longer.

Set in the 1920s/30s to an electronic track, an unseen character drives to a store, picks up condoms, then hits the road again. The protagonist, and the reason for his journey, are only revealed in the final moments. Mostly shot through a car window, the film is a dreamlike blur that builds to one of the coolest “ah-ha” moments ever. 

Combining poetry, film, good branding, and reticence – we need more in this tradition please! 

Palindrome: A palindrome is a word, sentence, verse, or even number that reads the same backward or forward. 

Golden Shovel: A poem that borrows a line or phrase by someone else, and uses each of their words as the final word of each line in a new poem. 

 Michel Gondry ‘Drugstore’ for Levi’s (1996)
John Cassavetes, Faces (1968)


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