John Cassavetes' Love Streams from Criterion (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison), Plus A Child Is Waiting

I think Love Streams is my favorite Cassavetes film, although that can be tough to call since his films have the ability to make you feel like whichever film you're currently watching is your favorite when you're caught up in them. But Love Streams has the scenes I keep going back to in my mind, especially the heart-breakingly frantic desperation of Gena Rowlands who has to make her husband and daughter laugh in sixty seconds in order to keep their love. Cassavetes is always great, and of course Seymour Cassel is perfect in his role, but it's really the portrayal of Rowland's character that transcends traditional cinematic storytelling to a level of arresting, lasting art.
For the longest time, our only option for Love Streams was a French DVD from Cinemalta, which you could either get separately or paired with a much earlier Cassavetes film, A Child Is Waiting. That's not such a complaint, as it was a nice set with quality transfers and even a few English language extras. But Criterion has finally brought Streams to the US, and in a big way: a really lavish blu-ray/ DVD combo pack featuring a new 2k scan and a bunch of great special features.
Meanwhile, Child remains unreleased stateside, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was somewhere on Criterion's list as well. It's a solid and critically acclaimed film, but it doesn't feel like "a Cassavetes film" at all. It's pretty emotionally affecting, with strong lead performances by Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland who proves she can do more than sing (though they do have her sing a teensy bit, just because). It does feel like it's taking the easy route tugging on heartstrings by having sweetheart Garland as a new teacher coming to care for a cute classroom of mentally challenged children. You can always rely on Cassavetes from getting overly sentimental, but I don't have that same confidence in screenwriter Abby Mann.

So let's take a look at these discs and see how tall the new 2k transfer stands up over the old edition. And since the Criterion set is DVD and blu, let's side-by-side those, too.
Cinemalta DVD on top; Criterion blu-ray on bottom.
That's a nice improvement. The French disc  The Cinemalta disc is pillarboxed for an anamorphic 1.66:1, whereas the Criterion is now slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1. Neither framing looks particularly right or wrong, though. The bigger difference is just how dirty the old image looks compared to the new scan, like Criterion literally washed the print with soap and water. I previously thought this, ebing a low budget indie feature was just shot on cheaper stock, but now I see how nice it can look. Criterion has more detail, a smoother yet sharper image and more detail in the blacks. I had always been happy with my DVD, but Criterion really went the distance here. The uncompressed audio is a nice bump up, too.
Criterion DVD on top, and their blu-ray on bottom.
And here's the Criterion DVD matched against the blu. Obviously it's the same transfer, but you can see the digital pixelation in Gena's face and hair that just comes off as natural film grain on the blu.
A Child Is Waiting, meanwhile, is 1.66:1 just like their DVD of Love Streams, but this time it's not anamorphic, which is disappointing. Also, the subtitles are forced (they weren't on Love Streams). So it's alright but underwhelming. They also have the trailer for Child on here, also with forced subs.
Extras-wise, the French disc was okay, but Criterion really tops it. First of all, Cinemalta had a nice 9 minute extract from the documentary I Am Almost Not Crazy, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews during the shooting of this movie. Criterion has the whole hour-long thing. Then the Cinemalta disc has another 11 minutes of behind the scenes footage taken from a show called Scene 143, which is actually a decent little exclusive for the French disc. There's another French extra, but it has no English language options... some French lady talks for a few minutes over posters and images from the movie. Lord knows what she's saying.

The Criterion, meanwhile, has brand new interviews with producer Al Ruban and co-stars Seymour Cassel and Diahnne Abbot. Then there's another one of Criterion's excellent "video essays," this time about actress Gena Rowlands. And there's an audio commentary by Michael Ventura who's written extensively on this film, and often reads straight from his book. It's sometimes quite compelling, and sometimes overly gushing and awkward; but overall has enough good content to be worthwhile. Finally, the Criterion disc has the trailer and a 29 page booklet, which includes an article Cassavetes himself wrote on the film for the New York Times. Actually, the French set had a booklet, too; you just couldn't read it unless you knew French.
So the Cinemalta disc was a nice release; it served us well. But now it's time to push it aside for Criterion's definitive blu. Even if you're not that fussed about upgrading your DVDs to blu-ray, this one is well worth it for the new extras and fresh scan. Even if you don't have a blu-ray player, it's worth upgrading just for the DVD part of the set. But still, the French disc is still worth hanging onto for that extra and especially for A Child Is Waiting... at least until that makes its blu-ray debut.

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