In the end credits of "Shadows", after we read 'directed by John Cassavetes', some white letters on the screen can be seen: "The film you have just seen is improvised", they say. I am always pursuing the fact that words are so important in movies since filmmakers started using them because, basically, there's no film without a screenplay and many other reasons. Cassavetes pursued the same goal, and he believed in the freedom of words; "Shadows" is the perfect example. It's a film with no real main characters, with no real main plot lines; it's mostly people in different situations, talking. Yes, some of the situations are connected but Cassavetes, apparently always in a rush to get to the talking, uses a fast forward technique when the characters are going somewhere or escaping from someone and are not speaking. Appearances are everything in this movie. For example, there's a brilliant score, full of jazz influences and a lot of fantastic solos, and there's one character that says he's a jazz musician and plays the trumpet (Ben, all the characters' names are the same names the actors'). However, we never see him play the trumpet or jam with a band; he doesn't even talk about music and just wanders with his friends around the city. They do talk, a lot, and about anything that's in their minds; going from how intelligent each of them are to the hilarious analysis of a sculpture. "Shadows" is funny in its intellectual references in parts like the one above, because these friends are not cultured. The only important female character in the film (Lelia), though, wants to be an intellectual. But again, she has one very interesting conversation with an older man at a party, about a book she's trying to write, and about how to confront reality; but nothing to do with being intellectual. At that same party, a woman is actually making an intellectual statement, full of complexity, and asks a guy beside her: "Do you agree?". "Yes", he says, but you can tell he doesn't know what she's talking about. Another character, a singer (Hugh), talks about his glory days in occasions, and we see him perform only once; but no references to the musical industry there. The focus of Cassavetes is the singer's relationship with his manager (Rupert), which most of the time involves chats about trivial stuff and not real 'musical' talks. So the trumpet player's important deal in "Shadows" is the time he spends with his friends; the intellectual wannabe girl's is her way of handling romantic relationships (one of the movie's strong points) and the singer's is the bond with his manager Appearances. The reason why performances are not important in this movie is simple. Cassavetes needed people who could master improvisation, without mattering if they were actually good. I believe some of them aren't, but they surely know how to improvise in a scene, and you can notice how well they do it. "Shadows" is not about performers; it's about a way of making cinema, based on the magic of conversation; and there you could say that performances mean something. That's why in every conversation the camera is like a stalker, constantly on the eyes of every character, constantly looking for the expressions that come with natural speech. There's a scene where the trumpet player and his friends are trying to pick up some girls. They are three, so each of them sits beside one girl (the girls are three two) in three different tables. They all talk at the same time and the camera shoots through the table, and sometimes the friends look at each other, while they say whatever they are saying It's natural.
Drama / Romance
Drama / Romance
Cassavetes' jazz-scored improvisational film explores interracial friendships and relationships in Beat-Era (1950s) New York City.
December 12, 2020