Criterion Year Week 30; Shadows

The Criterion Collection, the last vestige of truly collectible DVD and Blu-Ray movies in existence. These are well produced, fancy pants editions of important and interesting films for the discerning film lover.

We continue our journey through Jim's collection of movies with...


Spine Number: 251

Director: Gillo Pontecorvo John Cassavetes

Genre: Drama

"If American independent cinema could be said to have a birthday, Nov. 11 is as good a date to celebrate as any." - Elbert Ventura

Why November 11th? Because that is the day back in 1959 that John Cassavetes's "Shadows" premiered.

Now, up to this point movies were made by studios. Not necessarily the big studios, but due to the expense of the endeavor of making a film in one way or another, to some degree or another, a studio was involved in the process. Cameras, film, lights, talent... all that stuff cost a lot. So, even if it was some small time outfit, a studio was involved.

Enter John Cassavetes. He looked at what was happening and decided that "that's how we've always done it," was simply not a sufficient justification for producing films the way they were made. He set out to make a movie that broke, literally, every rule of  film making at the time. He didn't ask permission. He didn't follow the established channels. He ignored everything and made the movie he wanted to make. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, he didn't wonder who was going to let him make his movie, and refused to let anyone stop him.

So, employing students from the Cassavetes-Lane Drama Workshop, he set out to produce a completely self financed film. No studio, no backing company, nothing but the guts it took to make something completely on his own.

The result...


A free form story that ignored any and all ideas of dramatic structure, didn't use a script, and only used unknown actors from the workshop. The only professional hired by Cassavetes was a cinematographer.

What resulted, regardless of your feelings on the film, was a complete and utter up ending of the status quo. Unscripted, unstructured, and as free form as any jazz album ever produced, "Shadows" put the world of film making on notice. Not only did Cassavetes deny any power to the "gatekeepers," he destroyed the gate. He told the world that all you needed to make a movie was the will to do it and a group of people crazy enough to follow it. Much like the popular statement that only a few thousand people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but that everyone who did formed a band, not many people may have seen "Shadows" when it first came out, but everyone who did tried to make their own film.


So, join us for week one of our five week Cassavetes exploration with a film that changed the game and erased the rules. Even if you haven't seen it, I assure you there is something for you to like in this show.

Next Week:

The journey continues with...

Spine number 252: Faces

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