Shadows (1959)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 1959. . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by , . Production Design by , . Film Editing by John Cassavetes, Maurice McEndree.

John Cassavetes made his directorial debut with this mostly improvised, beautifully photographed independent film that presaged many of its kind in the decades to come. Unfolding in a spontaneous fashion, it sees two musicians leave town for a gig, one of them future Oscar nominee Rupert Crosse and the other , who kisses his sister () goodbye at the train station. She then attends a party where she meets Anthony Ray and the two hit it off, enjoying a brief love affair before her brother comes home and, in meeting him and seeing that he is African-American, makes Tony realize that Lelia is as well. That’s the centre of the plot but there isn’t much in the way of dramatically exploring the issue at the heart of this relationship dilemma. Rather, Cassavetes and his exceptionally strong cast, mostly taken from his own Cassavetes-Lane Drama Workshop collective, perform the pulse of New York City nightlife, the joys of cocktail parties and late nights with friends, and the focal point between the main characters emerges quite naturally from the buzz of the socializing that never feels contained or controlled. Cassavetes would bone up his character development in the future, even his most formless films would feature personalities that you feel you get to know in all three dimensions, but here in his debut he already shows himself a filmmaker of great strength who has more to offer than just empty rebellion against the mainstream. Look for Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Cassavetes in real life) in a brief cameo in a nightclub scene.

The Criterion Collection:  #251

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