Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.
Director: John Cassavetes
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni and Hugh Hurd
Runtime: 81 minutes
Shadows, director John Cassavetes’ first film, is widely considered to be a landmark in independent film making. Shot entirely with a 16mm handheld camera on the streets of New York City, Shadows was funded on a meager $40,000 budget. There was no script; instead, the vast majority of the dialogue was improvised. The crew consisted of volunteers and fellow class members of Cassavetes. Essentially, the low budget helped more than anything to give the film an authentic documentary-style feel.
Shadows follows the lives of a trio of siblings. Hugh (Hugh Hurd), is a talented but struggling jazz singer who is currently resorted to opening for girl go-go dancers. Ben (Ben Carruthers) is a hipster musician who has little direction in his life. Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) is an aspiring writer who is also emotionally vulnerable. They are, in a nutshell, very much members of the Beat Generation.
Shadows is remembered especially for its brave portrayal of sensitive issues from its time period. Interracial relationships are examined, as Lelia’s new fling, Tony (Anthony Ray) freaks out when discovering that she is African-American (her light complexion is quite a bit different than her brothers). There was also a bit of a controversy when Lelia and Tony were shown in a post-coital position — how dare a young woman have sex before marriage??
Given the rough look and nature of the film, it feels like we are right there on the streets of 1950s New York. The narrative moves along as it desires, never really settling down into a general plot. Sure, issues are brought up, but the film has more of a “day in the life” approach before it reaches its anticlimactic conclusion. With its improv dialogue and jazzy soundtrack, Shadows is an interesting relic of its time. Its importance to independent film making is undeniable, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch today.