Los Angeles Times - 07/25/2002
"...Startling....A raw, fresh slice of life..."
USA Today - 05/22/1998
"...[The film] influenced a wave of filmmakers....Goldoni is spectacular here..."
Uncut - 10/01/2005
"Fresh and vital, SHADOWS became a landmark for US indie cinema."
Total Film - 06/01/2012 4 stars out of 5 -- "[B]rave and heartfelt....It's a rare snapshot of ordinary people from a time in which the film industry was interested in anything but."
When actor John Cassavetes, frustrated with the lack of reality in movies in the late 1950s, decided to direct his own low-budget film, a new form of cinema was born. Defined as "an improvisation" in the closing credits, SHADOWS concerns three New York siblings whose mixed racial backgrounds create tension in their relationships. Hugh (Hugh Herd) is a dark-skinned jazz singer who can only find work that belittles his talent; Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), a light-skinned aspiring writer; and Ben (Ben Carruthers), the youngest, a light-skinned ladies man who spends his nights searching with his white friends for conquests. Hugh and Ben argue over Ben's inability to accept his racial background, an issue that reaches its boiling point when Lelia develops a relationship with Tony (Anthony Ray), a racist. The film boasts a gritty, compelling style, and Charles Mingus's bouncy jazz score enhances the frenetic camera work to give it a documentary-like feel. The performances, all naturalistic and seemingly unrehearsed, add even greater realism to Cassavetes's vision, resulting in a visionary work that is widely considered the first independent American film.
Description by Image Entertainment:
John Cassavetes' directorial debut revolves around an interracial romance between Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), a light-skinned black woman living in New York City with her two brothers, and Tony (Anthony Ray), a white man. The relationship crumbles when Tony meets Lelia's brother Hugh (Hugh Hurd), a talented dark-skinned jazz singer struggling to find work, and discovers the truth about Lelia's racial heritage. Shot on location in Manhattan with a cast and crew made up primarily of amateurs, Cassavetes' Shadows is a visionary work that is widely considered the forerunner of the American independent film movement.
A tough-minded black jazz trumpeter slogs through a series of performances in ratty bars and strip clubs, while his lighter-skinned younger siblings enjoy--at least temporarily--the various privileges of "passing" in Manhattan's white power elite. This entirely improvised film marks independent pioneer John Cassavetes's (who had been primarily an actor) first directorial project, and contains many of the trademark devices that made his later films as challenging and influential as his debut.
Essential Cinema |
Family Interaction |
Love Affairs |
New York City |
Race Relations |
Social Issues |
Theatrical release (New York City): March 21, 1961.
The New York release of the film was as the East attraction at the Embassy Theatre.
SHADOWS was filmed in New York City on a budget of approximately $40,000.
The film was first shown at the Venice Film Festival in September 1960, where it won the Critics Prize, then released in London at the Academy Theatre on October 14, 1960.
SHADOWS was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1993.
The film was originally shot without a script as an improvisation. At the premiere, the audience roundly disliked the film, except for legendary New York underground critic Jonas Mekas, who proclaimed it "a masterpiece." Discouraged, Cassavetes reshot the entire film, using a screenplay he had written; this second version is the film that was eventually released.
Faces International and Gena Productions were both production companies run by John Cassavetes.
Although the film was initially released without a rating, it has since been rated PG for its video release.