Shadows is the first feature film by John Cassevetes, a method actor turned director. Shot in New York City on a shoestring budget, using a 16mm camera and black & white film stock, Shadows is considered by many to be America's first truly independent feature film. In making it, Cassavetes guided non-professional actors, incorporating both a semi-improvisational style and scripted scenes into his final release version. Shot and edited over a two year period, Shadows won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1960. The loose-knit story revolves around the professional aspirations and personal disappointments of a trio of African-American siblings. Working against the grain of classical Hollywood filmmaking, Cassavetes eschewed contrived storylines and happy endings. He directly engaged his characters in crisis, without offering any ready-made resolutions. In non-melodramatic fashion, Cassavetes addressed such taboo subjects as interracial sex and subtle forms of racism. Visually, the auteur imbued Shadows with a nocturnal urban atmosphere of beat poets, hipsters, and jazz musicians, which was enhanced by Charles Mingus' score. To underscore his unconventional approach, Cassavetes utilized montage techniques that cut against the grain of seamless Hollywood editing. Shadows brought Cassavetes fame as a director, and this film exerted a strong influence on an entire new generation of film directors, including Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, and Mike Leigh. Shadows has been restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archives, funded by the Film Foundation.
No one should be surprised if Webster's Dictionary chose to illustrate the word "maverick" with a photo of John Cassavetes (1929-1989). Born in New York City and graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Cassavetes appeared in movie and television roles throughout the 1950's before personally financing his directorial debut, Shadows. Experimental in look and improvisational in plot and dialogue, Shadows won five awards at the Venice Film Festival, designating Cassavetes as one of the most personal and independent filmmakers of his day. Periodically returning to acting -- The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary's Baby -- to finance his own films, Cassavetes frequently collaborated with his wife, Gena Rowlands in creating a body of work singular in its imprint and influential in its reach. Faces, Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, and Gloria were groundbreaking upon release and seem even more essential as each year passes.