Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
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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Hal Ashby's iconic black comedy Harold and Maude opened in theaters on December 20, 1971.

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December 20, 1979
Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

For denizens of the New York theater scene, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All that Jazz provided them the guessing game of the season. What scandals was Fosse going to spill in his expose musical? The film, which tells the story of a Broadway choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), whose excesses in life and work bring him to the edge of a collapse, was clearly modeled on Fosse’s own life. Some actors (like Ann Reinking) play characters very similar to themselves; other figures (like ex-wife Gwen Verdon, producer Hal Prince, and others) are played by others; and other actors (like Jessica Lange) who were close to Fosse play oddly mythic figures. Fosse, who’d started choreographing for film in 1954, was soon pulled to New York to choreograph and eventually direct such musicals as Pippin, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. In 1969, he started making films as well, winning an Oscar in 1972 for Cabaret. A demanding taskmaster and infamous womanizer, the chain-smoking Fosse suffered a heart attack in 1975. It was during this period that Shirley Maclaine (according to her) suggested he create something about his brush with death. The resulting film is a breathtaking musical sleight of hand as Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon reveals his innermost fears and desires only to cover them in the next moment with all that jazz––surreal show stopping dance numbers and Felliniesque romps into his libido and unconscious. In 1987, life imitated art as Fosse died from a heart attack, just moments before his revival of Sweet Charity was to open at the National Theater.

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