Sunday, April 10, 2011

GUEST POST by Chris Piercy - John Cassavetes - Shadows (1959)

John Cassavetes got the idea to make his directorial debut, Shadows, while teaching a method-acting workshop about improvisation. What might have initially been the mere whim of a budding auteur ended in launching the career of one of the world’s great, if not universally appreciated, filmmakers. In doing so he also created a work of art that would be an incalculably influential early example of modern American independent film. So much of what we as an audience take for granted in the non-mainstream films of the past fifty years owes a large debt to the technique of Cassavetes, which also means that Shadows could seem a bit underwhelming at first glance, in the same way that Citizen Kane continues to puzzle the virgin expectations of young viewers. Not that this is anywhere near as masterful or perfect as Orson Welles’ epic. In fact, it is a film full of hiccups and false starts, but there are definite parallels of importance between the films. Beneath the haze of print degeneration, the often clumsy editing, and the occasionally awkward and amateurish acting lies a truly powerful, yet subtle, examination of American taboos in the ‘50s through the eyes of the lost, the gauche, and the confused. A good portion of the episodic plot centers on an interracial relationship between a light-skinned black woman and an initially clueless white man who is merely looking for some fast action, a narrative that was still lightly trod territory within the chaste morality of 1950s American cinema. But the subject is treated with a casual realism that was often missing from the more politically motivated racial proselytizing that would follow in the coming decade. This is not a movie about race, it’s a movie about alienated life, and that’s why Shadows is a work that continues to have an impact reaching far beyond Beat Generation cliché.

-Christopher "Yachtsman" Piercy

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