(John Cassavetes, USA, 1959) 82 minutes


Director: John Cassavetes
Producer: Maurice McEndree
Photography: Erich Kollmar
Editors: Len Appelson, Maurice McEndree
Sound: Jay Grecco
Music: Charles Mingus
Lelia Goldoni (Lelia)
Ben Carruthers (Ben)
Hugh Hurd (Hugh)
Anthony Ray (Tony)
Rupert Crosse (Rupe)

Reviews and notes

To me, SHADOWS will always be the film I love best - simply because it was the first one and we were all young, and because it was impossible, and we were so ignorant, and for three years we survived each other and everything."
- John Cassavetes

This remarkable undertaking, shot over a long period of time in New York locations on 16 mm, in every sense fulfils the concept of its artists - a small, independent group of young actors under the direction of John Cassavetes - of a film which is "an improvisation." From what began presumably as a method, i.e., a series of characterisations conceived without a script, has emerged a fresh and extraordinarily illuminating filmic experience. The improvisation manifests itself not only in muffled and overlapping dialogues, in involuntary gestures and sudden facial reflections of hidden inner tensions, but in the resultant sense of an overall ease and spontaneity. It is as if the film had gone for a stroll with its characters in search of its identity. This is what brings out the almost weightless restiveness, insecurity and rootlessness of the characters, forced to fight their battles as separate individuals; and it ensures that what we are seeing is "everyday" in its true sense, rather than self-consciously "candid-camera."

As an enjoyably emotive skein of human themes, the picture lends itself to many and various interpretations: racism, loneliness in the city, the futility of so much art, a study in feelings, behaviour and relationships, etc. But if ever there was a film which clearly does not intend to limit itself to didacticism, it is SHADOWS. Though it raises issues, it never raises them as issues; instead its vast interest to the spectator resides in its simple acceptance as an affectionate essay on people and their lives. At a time when so much socially conscious cinema is both commercialised and vulgarised, a film which achieves its ends exactly by a loosening of rigidity can achieve an apparent impact which is nothing short of revolutionary. The most aptly scripted dialogue in a Hollywood problem-picture would be hard put to it to match the density and complexity of the scene where Hugh throws out his sister's seducer.

Released from commercial restrictions of visual polish and verbal clarity, the camera takes on the personality of an eavesdropper and a scout, its mission being to pursue, reconnoitre, listen and disclose. The grainy images, the stray and randomly selective cutting, the snatches of saxophone music, all contribute to the finished result. The acting relies strongly on Stanislavski's method of creating full and believable lives; and, indeed, the film could be regarded as a casual, unstaged etude in preparation for a play which will follow later. Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni, Hugh Hurd and Anthony Ray are all outstandingly effective; but it is Cassavetes, less a creator than a director with a special aptitude for devising, inspiring and shaping a picture, who has above all given SHADOWS its personal flavour.

If, last year, it was Hiroshima, Mon Amour which brought new meaning to the interaction of one shot with another, then SHADOWS has found a new expression of the rawly emotional and human power that can be contained within a single shot.
? R.V., Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1960.

Weblink: For more on Shadows and John Cassavetes himself

Back to screening list

Home Page | Membership