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(1959, Cassavetes)
A film from John Cassavetes

"I thought being with you would be so important - would mean so much. That afterwards two people would be as close as it's possible to get. But, instead, we're just two strangers."

John Cassavetes is a notable blind spot of mine. Until last month, I hadn't seen a single one of his films, but obviously had heard much about his work in independent cinema and the influence he has had in the medium. So when December's challenge came up, I was looking forward to finally meeting the man and his work, and although titles like Wonder Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie are the ones that usually come up, I decided to start at the beginning, with his first film.

Set in New York City, Shadows follows the lives of three black siblings: struggling jazz musicians Ben and Hugh, and their light-skinned, younger sister Lelia, and their relationships with several other characters. The focus of the story falls mostly on Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), who starts a relationship with Tony (Anthony Ray). But things get complicated when he meets her brothers and finds out she's black.

Shadows is an interesting experiment. Filmed in 1957, released in 1958, and reworked in 1959, it went through a metamorphosis of sorts. The film was devised and promoted as a mostly improvisational work, which might've resulted in the poor reception it had on its first release. Cassavetes then went back to the drawing board to rework the film. This tinkering is probably the source of my main issue, which has to do with the rather loose narrative.

Even though the focus seems to be on Lelia (which apparently wasn't the case in the original version), her subplot is somewhat rushed away in the last act, while the focus changes a bit to Ben, who was more or less on the sidelines through all the film. So there's a bit of a disjointed nature to the flow of the story, which is understandable considering how it was made, released, and re-released.

However, I admire the honesty with which the film deals with important social issues in a way that few, if any, 1950s film dealt with. From man-woman relationships to racial tensions that perhaps are still present more than 50 years later. Paired with the organic and natural performances that Cassavetes pulls from his cast, I'm certainly looking forward to my second film of his.