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The Criterion Collection presents
Shadows (1959)

“A girl can’t walk safely down the streets at night in any city without being hollered at and called names and pinched and abused.”
- Hugh (Hugh Hurd)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: February 16, 2009

Stars: Lelia Goldoni, Anthony Ray
Other Stars: Hugh Hurd, Rupert Crosse, Ben Carruthers
Director: John Cassavetes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:22m:05s
Release Date: February 17, 2009
UPC: 037429187722
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-C+ B

DVD Review

Director John Cassavetes is one of the founding fathers of independent cinema. Watch a single reel of one of his films and it’s obvious that legendary indie directors like Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater are still influenced this master. His debut feature was 1959's Shadows, and this improvisational look at Beat-Era New York City didn’t do very well at the box office and still doesn’t get the critical respect that it deserves. While many still only associate Cassavetes with his acting role as Guy in Rosemary’s Baby, The Criterion Collection’s new release (this disc was originally included in a Cassavetes DVD box set) is a perfect way to introduce yourself to this cinematic icon’s directorial gems.

Ben (Ben Carruthers) is a hipster who hangs out with the wrong crowd and is almost always seemingly one step away from getting himself into trouble with the law. His older brother, Hugh (Hugh Hurd), a singer who travels from city to city with his manager, Rupert (Rupert Crosse), keeps him in check. Hugh also keeps an eye on his younger sister, Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), who is looking for love. She thinks she’s found it with Tony (Anthony Ray), but after a racially motivated incident, the two go their separate ways, and Lelia is devastated. Fortunately, she has a strong relationship with her brothers that transcend any of society’s racial issues.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, there’s a lot here that gave audiences in 1959 an idea of who Cassavetes would become as a director. At the time of the release, he was known solely for his acting (mostly on TV), but with Shadows, he laid the initial groundwork for what would become an amazing career. It’s clear that Cassavetes was ahead of his time in his willingness to tackle controversial subjects such as interracial romance. Touching on such a subject now is still, unfortunately, at least somewhat controversial, but basing most of his debut feature film on the subject back in the 1950s could have resulted in career suicide. Fortunately, his story is balanced, and so true to how actual human beings interact with each other, regardless of their race, his is a film that anyone with an open mind should see.

There’s no question that the improvisational nature leads to scene after scene of natural, realistic situations and conversation. However, there are times where is it painfully clear that Cassavetes is still trying to find his footing. This is evident more in his writing than anything, with many dialogue-heavy scenes coming across as a bit unnatural and forced. Sure, much of this can be attributed to the cast of newcomers, who might have been learning their craft on the fly. Anthony Ray is the most obvious amateur of the bunch, but his soft, almost whiny voice does at least mesh well with his character, Tony (all of the actors share a first name with the character they’re portraying). Everyone else is quite good, with Lelia Goldoni standing out thanks to her truly mesmerizing performance.

There are some truly unforgettable sequences that sneak up on us, including one that knocked me off my feet and was truly magical. It occurs when Lelia and Tony are enjoying an intimate encounter and are interrupted when Hugh and Rupert return home from a gig. When the lovers hear the door start to open, Lelia stands up and Cassavetes follows her in slow-motion. This drastic shift in shooting style results in a visual grace that gives Lelia an angelic quality, despite her lose of innocence only minutes before. While there are many scenes throughout Cassavetes filmography that have produced chills, it is this one that helps make Shadows such an amazing debut.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in its original full frame format, and the transfer the result of a meticulous restoration effort that has it looking better than ever. Thankfully, it maintains the overall look of 16mm, as the technicians responsible for the restoration kept the inherent softness intact. A detailed look at the restoration is offered as one of the extra features.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is also quite good, given the age of the movie, with the jazz-oriented soundtrack meshing perfectly with the crystal clear dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Lelia Goldoni Interview
  2. Seymour Cassel Interview
  3. Workshop Footage
  4. Stills Gallery
Extras Review: The extras begin with an exclusive interview with actress Lelia Goldoni that was shot in Los Angeles in 2004. This discussion lasts nearly 12 minutes and focuses on her experiences with Cassavetes, including her time performing in his workshop.

Next, is a four-minute interview with associate producer Seymour Cassel that was also shot in Los Angeles in 2004. He talks about how he met Cassavetes and his experiences working on the director’s first film.

There’s also four minutes of silent footage from The Cassavetes-Lane Drama Workshop, including appearances by David Pokitillow and Cliff Carnell, who would be among the actors in Shadows.

We also get an 11-minute piece that looks at the extensive restoration project that was undertaken by the UCLA Film and Television Archive to preserve Shadows. This took place from 2000 to 2002, and was funded by organizations like the Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Finishing up the extras is a stills gallery and the trailer.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If you’ve never seen a film by John Cassavetes,one of the founding fathers of independent film, what better way to acclimate yourself with this master than with his first effort, Shadows? The Criterion Collection’s new single-disc release of the film offers wonderfully restored audio and video and some great extras.


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