Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 09
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."


More Flashbacks
December 9, 1973
Don't Look Now released

On December 9, 1978, Nicolas Roeg's iconic Venice-set chiller Don't Look Now went on release in New York City.

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December 9, 1973
Looking at Don't Look Now

When British director Nicolas Roeg’s perverse thriller Don’t Look Now hit American theaters, not everyone was happy. In the New York Times review, Vincent Canby claimed that when this “fragile soap bubble of a horror film” ends, “you may feel, as I did, that you've been had.” Adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier short story, Don’t Look Now previewed many of the director’s upcoming themes—chaotic, realistic sex; disjunctive narrative montages; storylines that collapse the psychological and the supernatural. Here a young couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), traumatized by the recent drowning of their young daughter, comes to Venice for a working holiday and possible relief from their grief. What they find instead is a mystery lost in the maze of Venice’s back streets and canals and shrouded in the city’s famous fog. And while some find the film’s enigmatic style off-putting, more have found it unforgettable. The sex scene, which was thrown in at the last moment, has become so infamous that for years people have questioned whether it was real or simulated. The film’s fractured shooting style remains a model for how to transform a city into a cinematic character. And the infamous chase of a girl in a red raincoat has been referenced by films as diverse as the torture porn hit Hostel to the comedy In Bruges to James Bond’s Casino Royale to many music videos. 

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