EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|SHADOWS (director/writer: John Cassavetes; cinematographer: Erich Kollmar; editor: Len Appelson/Maurice McEndree; music: Shafi Hadi/Charles Mingus; cast: Ben Carruthers (Ben), Lelia Goldoni (Lelia), Hugh Hurd (Hugh), Anthony Ray (Tony), Dennis Sallas (Dennis), Tom Allen (Tom), David Pokitillow (David), Rupert Crosse (Rupert), Davey Jones (Davey), Pir Marini (Pir), Victoria Vargas (Vickie), Jack Ackerman (Jack); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Maurice McEndree; TCM; 1959)|
auspicious debut film as director."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The only film John Cassavetes
("Faces"/"Husbands"/"A Child is Waiting") shot without a screenplay, as
it's completely improvisational. It's also one of his great films. The
indie was made for $40,000 on 16-millimeter
in 2003 was restored and
blown up to 35-millimeter by
the UCLA Film Archive. It's Cassavetes's
debut film as director. It became recognized as a forerunner
the indie movement in America. The brilliant anti-Hollywood time
capsule film, shot on weekends with an unknown cast, is visually
stunning in b/w, original in narrative, filled with raw feelings, its
characters were all colorful and warm, and it was deeply moving in
picking up on a long gone bohemian scene in Manhattan and a seedy Times
Square that exists now in a different corporate Disney-like form.
Though not seen by many, this film had a strong influence on the young
filmmakers of its day (for one, it influenced Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets).
It centers on a struggling
artistic African-American family of two brothers and a 20-year-old
sister. The sassy artistic Leilia (Lelia
Goldoni) and her moody idler
jazz trumpet brother Benny (Ben
Carruthers) are so light-skinned that they could pass for white. The
older and more stable protective brother, Hugh (Hugh Hurd), is a struggling nightclub
singer. He has a dark complexion, which makes it hard to believe that
they are siblings.
The film follows Benny
horsing around with his two other idler white friends Tom (Tom Allen) and Dennis (Dennis Sallas), who roam the city getting into adventures
trying to pickup girls and even at one time getting into a pointless
bloody fist-fight with the dates of the girls they hit on. Leila dates
a controlling older white effete liberal writer, David (David Pokitillow), who is poor in the romance department
but is very intelligent. During a literati party, a fast-moving
aggressive white guy, Tony (Anthony
son of the great director
Nicholas Ray), steals the playful girl away from David
and breaks her cherry when he sleeps over. In the morning her black
brother Hugh returns from his out-of-town engagement and Tony is
shocked that Leila is a Negro, and immediately makes an excuse to
split. Leila recovers from this rejection to date a handsome black
singer dude (Davey Jones), who is not her type but will do until she
meets Mr. Right. We see Hugh, who all the time is harping that his
black manager Rupert (Rupert
Crosse) can't get him bookings
in decent nightclubs where he can showoff his talent. But he takes the
jobs in third-rate joints in order to support the family, and will show
his love for his main man Rupert when it counts the most.
The rambling narrative is
always interesting and inspired, as everything flows in a natural
rhythm that keeps things real and uncertain. It shows that just like in
real life there are always problems to deal with, and the film ends
with one problem solved and only another to deal with. The spontaneous
action gives these very sympathetic main characters a force that's easy
to relate to and allows us reasons to care for them even as they expose
some of their trying flaws. It's a film like no other of its time and
though its about a scene that vanished, the film itself has not become
There's also a brilliant jazz
score by Charles Mingus.
Although he appreciated the praises he received from Village Voice critic and filmmaker Jonas Mekas and others, Cassavetes wasn't satisfied with his baby and withdrew it from circulation. He then wrote a new screenplay and reshot half of the picture from scratch. This version ends with a title card saying, "The film you have just seen was an improvisation," but this is misleading since the picture I just reviewed faithfully follows a screenplay that was only based on the original improvisations.
REVIEWED ON 9/22/2010 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ