Shadows: On Film & In Book
masterpiece known as
Three members of a Mixed-Race family -- which
is of the Ethnic grouping referred to today as
'African-American' -- live together in Manhattan.
One aspires to become a jazz musician ----
while his two lighter-complexioned siblings
deal with the issues involved in considering
attempting to "pass" as being a mono-racial 'White'.
Hugh, a struggling jazz singer, attempting
to obtain a job and hold onto his dignity;
Ben, a Beat drifter who goes from
one fight and girlfriend to another;
and Lelia, who has a romance with a
'White' man who turns on her when he
discovers the truth of her full ancestral
"racial" lineage and 'ethnic' heritage .
In a delicate, semi-comic drama of
"self-discovery", the main characters
are forced to "explore who they are
and what really matters" in their lives.
John Cassavetes' Shadows is
an improvosational film made
in 1959, winner an award
at the Venice Film Festival.
It offers a compelling snapshot
of 'Beat culture' in NYC as it
itnersected with "racial" tensions
as well as the subserviant position
of women present even in "hip"
society during the early 60's.
An experiment in improvisational
filmmaking, John Cassavetes' first film,
'Shadows' is considered one of the seminal
works of the American independent cinema.
This film is included in the National Film
Registry / 1959 (87m. B+W) / Stars Ben
Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni, and Hugh Hurd.
It's very rare that an independent
film like Shadows dealt with issues
portraying African Americans in
a non-strerotypical storyline.
This movie has many powerful scenes.
The grounding of the film is very natural.
The characters were showed
depth in a believable manner.
Commentary on the film is
now available in book format
John Cassavetes' Shadows is
generally regarded as the start of the
independent feature movement in America.
Made for $40,000 with a nonprofessional cast and
crew and borrowed equipment, the film caused
a sensation on its London release in 1960.
Shadows ends with the title card
"The film you have just seen was an
improvisation," and for decades was
hailed as a masterpiece of spontaneity,
--- but shortly before Cassavetes' death,
he confessed to Ray Carney something
he had never before revealed -----
that much of the film was scripted.
He told him that it was shot twice and that
the scenes in the second version were written
both by him and Robert Alan Aurthur, a
professional Hollywood screenwriter.
For Carney, it was Cassavetes` Rosebud.
He spent ten years tracking down the
surviving members of the cast and
crew, and piecing together "the true
story" of the making of the film.
Carney takes the reader behind the scenes to
follow every step in the making of the movie
chronicling the hopes and dreams, the struggles
and frustrations, and the ultimate triumph of the
collaboration that resulted in one of the seminal
masterworks of American independent filmmaking.
Highlights of the presentation are more than
30 illustrations (including the only existing
photographs of the dramatic workshop
Cassavetes ran in the late fifties and
of the stage on which much of Shadows
was shot, and a still showing a scene
from the "lost" first version of the film);
and statements by many of the film's
actors and crew members detailing
previously unknown events during its creation.
One of the most interesting and original aspects of the
book is a nine-page Appendix that "reconstructs" much
of the lost first version of the film for the first time.
* * *
Book author, Ray Carney, maintains a web site devoted
to independent film at: (http://www.Cassavetes.com) and
may be reached by e-mail at: raycarney@....
The book 'Shadows' (by Ray Carney) is published
by the British Film Institute (London, England)
and distributed in the United States by the
University of California Press at Berkeley
ISBN: 0-85170-835-8 / 88 pages; 30 illustrations