John Cassavetes’ “Shadows”

Screening: Friday, October 26, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre

We continue our fall film series, MoMA American Indies, with John Cassavetes’ groundbreaking 1959 film, ShadowsCassavetes is such an icon of American independent cinema and this film is so revered, that looking at the already existent adulation over this film provides great preparation for our Friday screening. With that, here is a brief collection of quotes about Cassavetes and his remarkable work, Shadows:

“All would-be hipsters know Cassavetes is revered as the grandfather of modern indie cinema. With his five-and-dime budgets, his mix of amateur and professional actors and crew, his hand-held camera and grainy film stock, today’s pauper stylists may crib extensively from his movies. And they do. But what set Cassavetes apart, in addition to being the first, is that his movies are saturated in matters of the heart. Those coarse products of a bygone era aren’t rants against an unjust world, or empty exercises in style. They’re not even particularly antiestablishment. Lo and behold, they are all about love. It seems Cassavetes was foremost a humanist who lived to record our crazy, mad ways. He more than any filmmaker merged life and art into one, or rather redefined the artifice of movies to approximate life as it is lived.”

“To watch Shadows today is to rediscover the pleasure of seeing actors doing what moves them in the moment.”

Matthew Kennedy, Bright Lights Film Journal

“The Beat generation espoused a rejection of mainstream American values, and John Cassavetes’s Shadows feels like a relic from that movement, with its improvisatory bebop jazz feeling, cameras in the street, method-style performances, frustration about accepted social norms, and an interracial romance between a hipster white guy (Anthony Ray) and a light-skinned black woman (Leila Goldoni) that eventually takes over the episodic narrative. Cassavetes was pushing the envelope at the time, reacting to the formulaic techniques of Hollywood movies. Shadows will forever have the novelty of coming first—frequently credited with being the pioneer American independent movie. The rough-around-the-edges aesthetics and occasional “let’s hit the nail on the head” earnestness is made up for by scene work that is cheerfully goofy, spontaneous, aggressive, and inventive.”

Jeremiah Kipp, Slant Magazine

“’I have a need for characters to really analyze love,’ [Cassavetes] said. ‘That’s all I’m interested in—love and the lack of it.’ Shadows exemplifies the obsession, which is perhaps the main reason it remains as fascinating and powerful as it does. A work of its time that honestly captures its time, it is consequently a work of our time as well. It has no hero, no villain, no linear plot line, no gerrymandered suspense, no practiced comedy, and only as much sex and violence as just about all of us have encountered. Like any honest work of art, Shadows shows that life’s costumes, settings, and slang change, but human situations remain relentlessly constant.”

Gary Giddins, Criterion Collection

“[Shadows] is fitfully dynamic, endowed with a raw but vibrant strength, conveying an illusion of being a record of real people, and it is incontestably sincere. Some of its crude compulsion is in the poignancy of the story told, some of it is in the vigorous acting, virtually all of which is good.”

Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 1961

Reserve tickets for the Friday, October 26 screening of Shadows here.

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