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SHADOWS

USA, 1959 (MIFF 1962)

Director: John Cassavetes

Shadows takes us into the atmosphere of the lonely millions of New York City, where many seek emotional or artistic security! Attention is focused upon three Negro characters — two brothers and their sister. Hugh is the eldest, an unemployed singer who travels from one dreary night club to another, disillusioned by the apathy of intoxicated audiences who would rather watch half-nude chorines than listen to his blues. Hugh is obviously a Negro; however, his brother and sister, Ben and Lelia, are white-skinned mulattos who are quite ambivalent regarding their racial origin.

Lelia meets and sleeps with a white boy: she is deeply attracted to him and it is her first sexual experience. When he discovers that she is a Negress he leaves her. Ben is the white sheep of the family, a would-be musician who spends his time drifting from bar to bar, in society but not of it, a night creature Hitting around the fringes of two worlds.

This remarkable undertaking, shot on 16 mm. over a long period of time in New York locations, in every sense fulfils the concept of its artists — a small, independent group of young actors under the direction of John Cassavetes — of a film which is "an improvisation". From what began presumably as a method, i.e., a series of characterisations without a script, has emerged a fresh illuminating filmic experience. We know Cassavetes as an actor; in Shadows he proves to be a most sensitive director. The film is largely a night scene, set in dark streets, bars, and lit by neon signs.

Through the particular emotional expression induced by improvisation, the film slowly takes shape, without any sense of imposed force, and simultaneously an image of the night-life of downtown emerges. The inner feeling of the city and the relationships of its people — the tenderness, the family quarrels, and the loneliness — are revealed to us. The film begins in the middle and ends in the middle; nothing much is changed or resolved as it progresses, but this casual, fragmentary quality is precisely what makes it so convincing, so spontaneous, and so significant for its subject.

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