Shadows (1958)

PG   |    |  Drama, Romance


Shadows (1958) Poster

Cassavetes' jazz-scored improvisational film explores interracial friendships and relationships in Beat-Era (1950s) New York City.


7.4/10
9,089

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  • John Cassavetes in Shadows (1958)
  • John Cassavetes and Charles Mingus in Shadows (1958)
  • Lelia Goldoni in Shadows (1958)
  • Shadows (1958)
  • Ben Carruthers and Lelia Goldoni in Shadows (1958)
  • Ben Carruthers and Lelia Goldoni in Shadows (1958)

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10 October 2010 | dougdoepke
A Pioneering Approach
No need to repeat what little plot there is.

In 1959, movie-making was a closed shop. Between the studios, the craft unions, and the distributors, the only films outside Hollywood were home movies. Add a restrictive Production Code to that shop, and you get a commercial product that's typically slick, entertaining, but all too predictable.

I remember being on a mid-western campus at the time and hearing about Shadows. An independent production gave me ideas that fortunately or unfortunately never materialized. But for many others, the idea took root and, most importantly, helped shake loose the Hollywood monopoly.

No, Shadows is far from a masterpiece by any standard. It is, however, a gutsy, pioneering effort that achieves its own brand of sensibility—it's certainly not slick; then too, it's more interesting than entertaining, and not at all predictable. In short, what's on Cassavetes's screen is largely in contrast to what we expected from feature films of the time.

Instead of conventional story or plot, there are several very loose narrative threads. Instead of prepared script, set, and cast, there are non-professionals and improvisation, though how much, I gather, is debatable. And in place of expected resolutions at movie's end, life simply continues much as it did before.

As a result, there's no expected moral or lesson to events. They simply happen as they happen, but within that framework, new possibilities open up, while the screen comes to look more like everyday experience than an entertainment medium. I gather the aim is to reveal truths at a new level left undisclosed by traditional narrative structure. Something like the 'truth of the moment as it's lived'.

This is certainly no place to attempt a concept like that. However, I can see how movie tradition with its emphasis on structure and artifice would override the momentary and the non-preconceived in favor of the integrity of the whole. So, it looks like Cassavetes not only helped establish the indie, but also aimed at a new way of looking at movies in general.

Anyway, I don't know how well he succeeds with Shadows. However, I do have a lasting image of New York City, that is, of the shabbily gaunt Ben Carruthers hunched down in his leather jacket, perhaps as protection against an uncaring world as he drifts aimlessly down the city street. I'm just sorry that Shadows didn't make it to my long ago campus.

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