Shadows (1961)

80-81 or 84 mins | Drama | April 1961

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HISTORY

All of the credits except the producer’s and director's appear before the film. After the credits at the end of the picture, a written statement reads: "The film you have just seen was an improvisation." Shadows was not copyrighted at the time of its release, but on 2 May 1985 a copyright was granted to John Cassavetes under registration number PA-297-604. Although the Var review lists the production as a Maurice McEndree-Pnico Papatakis production and release and the HR review calls the film a Gene Enterprises presentation, neither Papatakis nor Gene Enterprises are listed in any other source.
       Shadows is often referred to as the forerunner of the American independent film movement. Its groundbreaking approach employed a cinéma verité attempt to capture a purely objective reality on film through the use of such elements as improvisation, unsentimental subject matter, gritty visual style and independent financing, which allowed freedom from commercial constraints. Director John Cassavetes (1929—1989) rose to fame in the mid-1950s as an actor on television and in such films as Edge of the City (see above). In 1956, he and Burt Lane co-founded the Cassavetes-Lane Drama Workshop in Manhattan, an acting studio devoted to improvisational techniques.
       The inception of Shadows , as outlined in a Nov 1960 Newsweek feature, took place in the workshop, where Cassavetes challenged his students to flesh out a general outline about two light-skinned black siblings and the boyfriend who discovers the sister is black. Star Lelia Goldoni, who was eighteen at the time the film was shot, and, despite her role, Sicilian by ancestry, discussed Cassavetes’ ... More Less

All of the credits except the producer’s and director's appear before the film. After the credits at the end of the picture, a written statement reads: "The film you have just seen was an improvisation." Shadows was not copyrighted at the time of its release, but on 2 May 1985 a copyright was granted to John Cassavetes under registration number PA-297-604. Although the Var review lists the production as a Maurice McEndree-Pnico Papatakis production and release and the HR review calls the film a Gene Enterprises presentation, neither Papatakis nor Gene Enterprises are listed in any other source.
       Shadows is often referred to as the forerunner of the American independent film movement. Its groundbreaking approach employed a cinéma verité attempt to capture a purely objective reality on film through the use of such elements as improvisation, unsentimental subject matter, gritty visual style and independent financing, which allowed freedom from commercial constraints. Director John Cassavetes (1929—1989) rose to fame in the mid-1950s as an actor on television and in such films as Edge of the City (see above). In 1956, he and Burt Lane co-founded the Cassavetes-Lane Drama Workshop in Manhattan, an acting studio devoted to improvisational techniques.
       The inception of Shadows , as outlined in a Nov 1960 Newsweek feature, took place in the workshop, where Cassavetes challenged his students to flesh out a general outline about two light-skinned black siblings and the boyfriend who discovers the sister is black. Star Lelia Goldoni, who was eighteen at the time the film was shot, and, despite her role, Sicilian by ancestry, discussed Cassavetes’ process in a Jul 1961 HCN interview and in the 2004 Criterion Collection DVD release. She related that after a mere four-and-a-half hours of improvisation, Cassavetes went on the “madman’s journey” of securing enough funding to film the result, giving the actors a general situation that they were then free to interpret. There was no written screenplay, in keeping with Cassavetes’ theory that art should hew as closely to life as possible, and the film’s onscreen credits contain no writing credits.
       The Newsweek article describes how, after deciding to transform the workshop experiment into a film, Cassavetes appeared on the radio show “Jean Shepherd’s Night People” and asked for contributions. In addition to the money sent in by listeners, larger sums were donated by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, director William Wyler and Joshua Logan. Other contributors, according to an Aug 1961 HCN article and modern sources, included producer Sol Siegel, Twentieth Century-Fox head Spyros Skouras and director Robert Rossen. Contemporary sources estimate the final budget for Shadows as $40,000. Location shooting took place entirely in New York City, and the HCN article lists the production duration as forty-two days. A 31 Aug 1960 Var article related that the original 16mm footage ran for ten to twelve hours and the cast and crew worked without pay, for a percentage of the gross.
       Modern sources dispute the extent to which the actual production history of Shadows matches the legend that surrounds it. Despite the emphasis in contemporary reviews on the improvisational aspect of the performances, according to modern interviews, much of the story was prepared in advance, the scenes were rehearsed and reworked before shooting began and Cassavetes retained control over the characterizations. In a modern interview, Cassavetes noted that “The reason Shadows was done that way was that I didn’t think I’d be able to write a screenplay, and I couldn’t afford to hire a screenwriter.”
       After shooting was completed, Cassavetes arranged a private screening in New York. He related in a modern interview that many of the audience members considered the picture too rough, and despite the fact that Film Culture critic Jonas Mekas named Shadows the Independent Film of the Year, Cassavetes decided to reshoot and reedit the footage. (The original version was restored in 2004.)
       Cassavetes stated in the HCN article that the original footage contained “no story, just a group of shots. What story came out was conceived entirely in the cutting room.” A modern source asserts that Robert Alan Arthur helped prepare a shooting script for the new version. Goldoni stated in her DVD interview that in 1959, the director asked her back to New York to shoot new footage, including the sequences at the dance, in the bedroom after "Lelia" and "Tony" make love, in Port Authority where Lelia bids goodbye to "Hugh," and her walk home. In addition, while the original score was recorded by noted jazz musician Charles Mingus, marking Mingus’ first film scoring credit, the new footage featured music by saxophonist Shafi Hadi.
       The new version, blown up to 35mm and first screened in Nov 1959, not only infuriated Mekas, who publicly accused the director of “selling out,” but failed to secure an American distributor. However, it garnered an invitation from the British Film Institute to screen Shadows at the National Film Theatre in London in Oct 1960. Rave reviews led to the film being played out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Critics Award. British Lion International then offered Cassavetes an advance for $25,000 and a contract to distribute Shadows in the U.K. Var announced on 26 Oct 1960 that Lion had acquired the rights for a $28,000 guarantee plus a split of the grosses. On 16 Nov 1960, DV reported that Lion had acquired worldwide rights to the picture. The item speculated that the deal marked the first time a British company would be distributing an American picture in the United States.
       Shadows had its official American premiere in New York on 21 Mar 1961, and went into general release in Apr 1961. Reviews hailed it as a dynamic and momentous step forward in moviemaking, with the DV reviewer stating that “It may well be the standard bearer for an entirely new approach, a radical swerve, in U.S.-manufactured screen entertainment.” The picture’s success resulted in Paramount offering Cassavetes a seven-year directing contract. In the 1960 Newsweek article, Cassavetes stated that he would never again make another independently financed film, as the difficulties caused by a lack of funding were too great. However, his next two films were poorly received, and as a result, the director turned away from studio-financed pictures and back to independent filmmaking and largely improvised performances.
       Cassavetes' third film, Faces (1968, see entry), was hailed as a landmark cultural document. Faces starred Cassavetes’ wife, Gena Rowlands, and friend Seymour Cassel, who had served as the associate producer for Shadows and appeared as a pool player. Rowlands starred in most of Cassavetes' subsequent films, including one of his most famous features, 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence (for which Cassavetes was nominated for a Best Director Oscar). Two of their children, Nick and Alexandra, also went on to act and direct. In addition to his directing career, John Cassavetes continued acting, garnering an Academy Award nomination for his performance in The Dirty Dozen (1967, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 Nov 1960.
---
Daily Variety
8 Feb 1961.
---
Film Daily
24 Mar 61
p. 10.
Harrison's Reports
8 Apr 1961
pp. 55-56.
Hollywood Citizen-News
19 Jul 1961.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
11 Aug 1961
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 1961.
---
Motion Picture Daily
22 Mar 1961.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Apr 61
p. 76.
New York Times
22 Mar 61
p. 37.
Newsweek
7 Nov 1960
p. 120.
Newsweek
3 Apr 1961.
---
Sight and Sound
Mar 2004.
---
Time
24 Mar 1961.
---
Variety
31 Aug 60
p. 16.
Variety
16 Oct 1960.
---
Variety
26 Oct 1960.
---
Variety
15 Feb 61
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PHOTOGRAPHY
Lighting
Asst to lighting
Asst to cam
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
SET DECORATORS
Sets
MUSIC
Saxophone solos
Addl mus
SOUND
Rec at
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
SOURCES
SONGS
"Beautiful," words and music by Jack Ackerman, Hunt Stevens and Eleanor Winters.
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1961
Premiere Information:
Venice Film Festival screening: 25 August 1960
London opening: 14 October 1960
New York opening: 21 March 1961
Production Date:
began January 1957
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
gauge
16mm and 35mm
Duration(in mins):
80-81 or 84
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Aspiring jazz trumpeter Ben Carruthers, a young, light-skinned black man, attends a loud and crowded Manhattan party. As the evening wears on, he looks increasingly unhappy, but the next day, his enthusiasm is renewed by his efforts to meet girls with his friends Tom and Dennis, both of whom are white. Meanwhile, Ben’s older brother Hugh Hurd, a singer whose skin is darker, meets with his manager, Rupert Crosse, who has secured a job for him singing in a seedy Philadelphia nightclub. Feeling belittled by the club manager’s insistence that he introduce the chorus girl act, Hugh complains bitterly, but allows Rupert to talk him into accepting the job. At the rehearsal, Ben appears and asks Hugh for a loan, but will not explain why he needs the money. Needing to keep his job in order to help support Ben and their sister Lelia, Hugh rushes to make the train to Philadelphia. Lelia sees him off at the station and then, ignoring her brother’s exhortation to catch a cab, walks home through Times Square. Although one man tries to accost her, another defends her, and she runs home unharmed. In Philadelphia, Rupert coaches Hugh on his stage banter, but during the show, Hugh’s singing and emceeing is deemed unworthy and the stage manager cuts his act short. Back in Manhattan, Lelia’s white boyfriend, the bright, controlling David, tries to convince Ben and his friends to take advantage of the city’s cultural offerings, and although they laugh, they decide to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In contemplation of the statues there, Dennis expounds on the intrinsic value of art, while Tom argues that most artists are sellouts. David invites ... +


Aspiring jazz trumpeter Ben Carruthers, a young, light-skinned black man, attends a loud and crowded Manhattan party. As the evening wears on, he looks increasingly unhappy, but the next day, his enthusiasm is renewed by his efforts to meet girls with his friends Tom and Dennis, both of whom are white. Meanwhile, Ben’s older brother Hugh Hurd, a singer whose skin is darker, meets with his manager, Rupert Crosse, who has secured a job for him singing in a seedy Philadelphia nightclub. Feeling belittled by the club manager’s insistence that he introduce the chorus girl act, Hugh complains bitterly, but allows Rupert to talk him into accepting the job. At the rehearsal, Ben appears and asks Hugh for a loan, but will not explain why he needs the money. Needing to keep his job in order to help support Ben and their sister Lelia, Hugh rushes to make the train to Philadelphia. Lelia sees him off at the station and then, ignoring her brother’s exhortation to catch a cab, walks home through Times Square. Although one man tries to accost her, another defends her, and she runs home unharmed. In Philadelphia, Rupert coaches Hugh on his stage banter, but during the show, Hugh’s singing and emceeing is deemed unworthy and the stage manager cuts his act short. Back in Manhattan, Lelia’s white boyfriend, the bright, controlling David, tries to convince Ben and his friends to take advantage of the city’s cultural offerings, and although they laugh, they decide to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In contemplation of the statues there, Dennis expounds on the intrinsic value of art, while Tom argues that most artists are sellouts. David invites them all to a literary party that evening, where two of the guests exchange heated remarks about existentialism. Lelia is wounded by David’s critique of a story she wrote, and to bolster her argument that life is spontaneous, she kisses the man whom she has just met, Tony Russell. The two are immediately attracted, and Lelia invites Tony to join her and David in the park the next day. There, they run away from David and share an intimate discussion, during which Lelia admits that she is afraid life is passing her by. Unaware that she is a virgin, Tony asks her up to his apartment for a drink, and soon the two are in bed together. Afterward, Lelia expresses profound disappointment, stating that she still feels like a stranger to Tony, while he seems both confused and frightened by the strength of his feelings for her. Against her wishes, Tony accompanies her to her apartment, where they again begin to kiss. Just then, Hugh returns from Philadelphia, and when Lelia introduces him as her brother, Tony realizes that she is black, and suddenly announces that he is late for an appointment. Weeping, Lelia tells Tony that she loves him, as a furious Hugh orders him to leave. Ben later realizes that Lelia is upset, but Hugh tells him that it is “just a problem with the races, nothing you’d be interested in.” Hugh throws a party that night at the apartment, where both Ben and Lelia are moody and argumentative. Lelia’s friend Vicky insists on introducing her to a black friend named Davey, but Lelia is rude to him, even after David enters and apologizes for Tony’s actions, explaining that he did not know what Tony was really like. Ben also reacts boorishly to a woman who is flirting with him, and after she throws her drink in his face, Hugh punches him, causing Lelia to scream at Hugh. Ben then leaves the party while Hugh grouses to Rupert. The next morning, Hugh tells a petulant Ben that he hopes they are still “friends, buddies, brothers.” Later, Davey arrives to take Lelia to a dance, but she, while making him wait for over two hours, continually insults him. Hugh argues with Davey and Rupert about his songs, which the other men consider too slow. As Davey and Lelia are finally leaving the apartment, Tony arrives, but Lelia pushes past him silently. Tony clumsily tells Hugh and Ben that he has realized that “there’s no difference between us,” and Ben agrees to pass this on to Lelia, but laughs with Hugh after Tony leaves. At the dance club, Lelia remains snappish, but Davey reveals that he knows she is angry with Tony rather than him. After he declares that “It’s you I like,” Lelia finally ceases her insults and dances with him quietly. Soon after, Hugh is late once again to meet Rupert for an out-of-town job, prompting Rupert to declare that Hugh is too difficult and demanding. After a heated argument, Hugh entreats Rupert to believe in him, calling Rupert the greatest manager in the world. Meanwhile, Ben and his friends get into a brawl with another group of young men, after which Ben claims that he no longer wants to drift aimlessly about the city. He bids goodnight to his friends, but as Ben crosses a busy street, it is clear that his direction remains uncertain. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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