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Shadows (1959) - Criterion Collection
Shadows - Criterion Collection
1959
Actors: Hugh Hurd, Lelia Goldoni, Anthony Ray
Director: John Cassavetes
Genres: Drama
NR     2008     1hr 21min

John Cassavetes' directorial debut revolves around an interracial romance between Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), a light-skinned black woman living in New York City with her two brothers, and Tony (Anthony Ray), a white man. The r...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Hugh Hurd, Lelia Goldoni, Anthony Ray
Director: John Cassavetes
Genres: Drama
Sub-Genres: Family Life
Studio: Criterion Collection
Format: DVD - Black and White
DVD Release Date: 02/17/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2009
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2009
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 21min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 12
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Good start
Cosmoetica | New York, USA | 09/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"In many ways, the filmic career of independent filmmaking legend John Cassavetes is the polar opposite of someone like Alfred Hitchcock, the consummate studio director. Where Hitchcock infamously treated his actors as cattle, Cassavetes sought to work with them improvisationally. Where every element in a Hitchcock shot is composed immaculately, Cassavetes cared less for the way a scene was figuratively composed than in how it felt, or what it conveyed, emotionally. Hitchcock's tales were always plot-first narratives, with the human element put in the background. Cassavetes put the human experience forefront in every one of his films. If some things did not make much sense logically, so be it.
One can see this even from his very first film, 1959's Shadows, filmed with a 16mm handheld camera, on a shoe string budget of about $40,000, in Manhattan, with Cassavetes' acting workshop repertory company, and touted as an improvisatory film. The story is rather simple, as it follows the lives of three black sibling Manhattanites- Benny (Ben Carruthers)- a trumpeter and no account, Hugh (Hugh Hurd)- a washed up singer, and Lelia (Lelia Goldoni)- the younger sister of both. The film's three main arcs deal with Hugh's failures as a nightclub crooner, and his friendship with his manager Rupert (Rupert Crosse); Benny's perambulations in an about Manhattan with his two no account pals; and Lelia's lovelife- first with a white boy Tony (Anthony Ray), who does not realize light-skinned Lelia's race, even after bedding her; then with stiff and proper Davey (Davey Jones), who may be a misogynist.
In the first arc, nothing much happens, except dark-skinned Hugh gets to pontificate on how degraded he feels to be singing in low class nightclubs, and opening shows for girly acts. He dreams of making it big in New York, or even Paris, but one can tell he is the type of man who will continue deluding himself of his meager skill, for the one time we actually get to hear him sing, he shows he's a marginal talent, at best. That Rupert keeps encouraging him gives us glimpses into how destructive friendships work. But, this is the least important of the three arcs.... While this film is better overall than, say, Martin Scorsese's first film, a decade later, Who's That Knocking At My Door?- another tale of failed romance and frustrated New Yorkers, it has none of the brilliant moments- acting-wise nor cinematographically- that that film has. It also is not naturalistic, for naturalism in art is a very difficult thing to achieve, especially in film, although the 1950s era Manhattan exteriors, at ground level, is a gem to relive. While Shadows may, indeed, be an important film in regards to the history of the independent film circuit, it certainly is nowhere near a great film. Parts of it are preachy, poorly acted, scenes end willy-nilly, almost like blackout sketches, and sometimes are cut off seemingly in the middle. All in all it's a very sloppy job- especially the atrocious jazz score that is often out of synch with the rest of the film, as Cassavetes proved that as a director, at least in his first film, he was a good actor. The only reason for anyone to see Shadows is because Cassavetes ultimately got better with later films, and this gives a clue as to his later working style.
The National Film Registry has rightly declared this film worthy of preservation as `culturally significant'. This is all in keeping with the credo of art Cassavetes long championed, as typified by this quote: `I've never seen an exploding helicopter. I've never seen anybody go and blow somebody's head off. So why should I make films about them? But I have seen people destroy themselves in the smallest way. I've seen people withdraw. I've seen people hide behind political ideas, behind dope, behind the sexual revolution, behind fascism, behind hypocrisy, and I've myself done all these things. So I can understand them. What we are saying is so gentle. It's gentleness. We have problems, terrible problems, but our problems are human problems.' That this film is `culturally significant' is true, but that truth is not synonymous with its being `artistically significant'. It is in the difference between these two definitions where great art truly thrives.
"
John Cassavetes' first film. It is best to buy it with the
Dennis A. Amith (kndy) | California | 02/05/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)

"In 1957, actor John Cassavetes who had appeared in a good number of Hollywood films had also ran a workshop for fellow thespians in New York City. One of the things he taught was method acting and during an exercise done at the workshop, Cassavetes explored acting and race relations. Having been inspired by the exercise, he went out and created his first independent film featuring the actors at the workshop and shot it with a 16mm handheld camera.

The film was known as "Shadows" and although the 1957 was shot and screened to critics but after observing how the audience reacted, Cassavetes contacted his fellow talent two years later and filmed additional scenes and crafted another version of the film which was screened at the Venice Film Festival and winning the Critics Award. Also, the film went on to become the spearhead for Independent film as Cassavetes funded the film using his own money which he made from various acting gigs and didn't utilize any major talent but utilizing his own talent from his workshop to help make the film possible through improvisation.

As a precursor to the Beat Generation eventually transitioning to the hippie culture, "SHADOWS" was a film that took on race during a time that race relations between Caucasian and Blacks were still at an all-time high and focuses on interracial relationships. So, important that this low budget Independent film was selected for preservation in the United States National Registry by the Library of Congress in 1993 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

VIDEO & AUDIO:

"SHADOWS" is featured in black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and as shot in 16mm film. It's important to note that at this time, John Cassavetes' first film shows his focus more on the acting talents while in later films, we see his view on cinema and his role as a filmmaker start to emerge. The film does have its share of dirt and dust and even hair like particles that show up but there is a restoration demonstration of what it took to restore and remaster this film which had not been taken care of and desperately needed repair work. So, just for what the restoration team were able to accomplish is amazing.

As for audio, audio is presented in Monaural, Dolby Digital 1.0. The film is center channel driven but for those with a modern receiver can opt to switch the audio to stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundtrack.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"SHADOWS" comes with the following special features:

* Lelia Goldoni Interview - (11:40) An interview with Lelia Goldoni who was part of John Cassavetes and Burt Lane's acting workshop. She talks about how the improvisation exercise became a film, working with Cassavetes and shooting more scenes two years later for the film.
* Seymour Cassel Interview - (4:29) An interview with Seymour Cassel in 2004. Cassel talks about how he got to be part of Cassavetes's films and how he became friends with him and getting his experience and developing a long friendship with Cassavetes.
* Workshop Footage - (4:16) Featuring silent footage from the 1950's of the actors at the Cassavetes-Lane Drama workshop in Manhattan.
* Restoration Demonstration - (11:03) A featurette on how the UCLA Film and Television Archive preserved "Shadows" and the challenges they encountered in the three years it took to restore the film.
* Still Gallery - Using your remote, viewers can cycle through various images from the production of "SHADOWS".
* Trailer - (2:52) The original theatrical trailer for "SHADOWS".

JUDGMENT CALL:

"SHADOWS" is an intriguing film and I can imagine if I put myself in the shoes of the viewer watching it back in 1959, I would imagine that this film could be seen as rebellious a film that invokes realism. The film's importance which provided that spark and help ignite the independent film movement and showcasing America's breakaway from traditional filmmaking. People who watched "SHADOWS" were inspired to create their own films, not have the expensive talent and to see a film created with a 16mm camera on a low budget but yet still be provocative enough to make people think but also to enjoy.

Using no written screenplay, "Shadows" is entirely improvised. Acting and even camera work seems to be off at times but no surprise as the talents for the film were improvising and the fact that this film was low budget at $40,000 (no doubt a lot back in the late '50s) and only a crew of six people.

But what makes this film work is to see interracial relationships featured in an earlier film from the late '50s, shot a decade before "To Sir, with Love", I often think about how people at the time view this film. In a way, it's quite exciting to know that Cassavetes would create a film that would push the button during those high tension times.

Also, what works is capturing that New York City feel. Sure, it was done via a low-budget but to see Lelia wandering through New York City, through the park and then see the various parties held by Hugh featuring his friends (who were mostly all Black) and in contrast to a party that Lelia was part of (who were all Caucasian).

Add in the memorable scenes of a so bad it's fun song sung by the Caucasian women who have no talent to the aftermath between Lelia first sexual experience and her words of "I never imagined it could be so awful" was surprising. There are these shorter scenes that you watch and somehow, just be impressed of what was captured on film.

It is important to note that in 1957, a first film was screened for critics. This film was lost and was recently discovered by Boston University Professor who spent 11 years of his life and a lot of money in trying to find this film. Carney was originally planned to give commentary for the Criterion DVD release and even offered the film for free. But according to Carney, Cassavetes' wife has suppressed the film from ever being shown (and claims there is no first film) and the drama going on behind-the-scenes of trying to get this film out to the public is just shocking to read. But what is surprising is that a film critic who saw the original 1957 film and the 1959 film (which is featured on the DVD and screened in theaters) said the former is much better. Carney even saying on his website they are essentially two different films and we are left wondering when will we ever see this film.

It would be a shame for Cassavetes fans if they never had a chance to see this film and I just hope somehow in my lifetime and for other Cassavetes fans, we can see his original film someday.

Overall, "SHADOWS" is an enjoyable film but definitely far from being a Cassavetes masterpiece. This is a precursor to showing how his style of filmmaking would develop overtime but for the most part, his importance in helping jumpstart independent films with a low budget. An important film that I'm glad to see included on the" John Cassavetes Five Films" DVD box set.

The box set is highly recommended!"