Directed by: John Cassavetes
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni, Hugh Hurd, Anthony Ray, Dennis Sallas
I am no fan of the films of John Cassavetes. I don’t care how heretical that statement is. There’s nothing like a Cassavetes movie to make you yearn for the final head-explosion scene of Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978). Actually, this one—his first film—is a little more congenial than the bulk of his “improvised” works. Most of Cassavetes films—including Shadows, despite its final title card—were nowhere near as improvised as Cassavetes put forth. (One critic has suggested that this was a dodge so that Cassavetes wouldn’t have to own up to having written the dialogue.) If nothing else, Shadows exists as a fascinating look into the time and the world in which it was made. Its portrait of racism—even among the more “enlightened” beat generation types—still packs a punch, and its depiction of sex was certainly unlike anything coming out of American film at the time. (Of course, there’s no chance Cassavetes was submitting this to the MPAA for a seal.) None of this means that the film—even at a scant 82 minutes—doesn’t have some incredibly dull patches, or that some of the acting isn’t about on a par with an Ed Wood movie. In some cases, I’m not even sure what the film itself thinks of its characters, which is perhaps part of the point. (Is Hugh Hurd actually supposed to be a good jazz singer? I heard no evidence of it.) Whether or not you find it to be a masterpiece, the cornerstone of independent film and the American equivalent of Godard’s Breathless (1960) is a personal call.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Shadows at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 9, at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
In Brief: Regardless of how you feel about John Cassavetes’ first film, Shadows (1959), this not-as-improvised-as-it-would-have-you-believe work, which loosely examines racism and beatnick culture, is important for its influence and as a fascinating document of its time.