Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
August 19
November 11, 1959
Shadows opens in NYC

American independent cinema -- or, at least, its actor-centric, realistic strand -- was born on November 11, 1959, when John Cassavetes' debut feature, Shadows, opened in New York cinemas. With heavily improvised dialogue, and shot in 16mm black and white on the streets of New York, Shadows centered on an interracial relationship within the '50s New York City jazz world. Its rough-hewn lensing, complete with close-ups that sat right up against the actors' faces, gave the film a raw immediacy that was miles away from the more traditional dramas hailing from the Actors Studio crowd. Cassavetes' movie won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival and while Bosley Crowther in the New York Times gave it only a patronizingly positive review, others were more enthusiastic, especially as the years went on. Then, in 2004, film critic and historian Ray Carney reintroduced to the film world a little known fact about Shadows: it was filmed twice. In 1957, Cassavetes shot the film and, in the fall of 1958, screened it for a group of colleagues at New York's Paris Theater. Discouraged by the reception, the director reshot scenes and returned in '59 with a new version. However, some, like filmmaker Jonas Mekas, preferred the earlier version, which he called "the most frontier-breaking American in at least a decade." After a lengthy search, Carney finally tracked down a print of the original version, which went from a second-hand shop (following its purchase as a lost-and-found item from the New York City MTA) to an attic in Florida. "The print exceeded my expectations in every respect," Carney wrote. "In terms of content, there are more than 30 minutes of entirely different scenes that are not in the later version. The discovery gives us a large chunk of new work by Cassavetes - a little like discovering four or five lost Picasso paintings.... One could ask if the discovery proves Mekas right or wrong; but that doesn't really matter. Each version of Shadows stands on its own as an independent work of art."


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