John Cassavetes Albert Johnson - Essay

Albert Johnson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

American films have become so glossy in their technical mastery and box-office attitudes that one greets with surprise and a sort of awe an independent group of film artists, not particularly interested in financial gain, who have created a celluloid diamond of neorealism and called it Shadows.

It is, first of all, the best American film about racial relations yet made. Secondly, one hopes it heralds the beginning of a tradition of cinematic vitality and honesty dealing with the experiences of ordinary human beings in the United States…. [The] entire film is an improvisation on life and emotional disturbances among a certain milieu of city strugglers—unknown singers, artists, dancers, and actors who comprise part of the so-called "bohemian" strata of society. Its theme is loneliness, the chief cause of frustration among the young, but strengthened by counter-themes of color prejudice, the lack of artistic values in this country, and the casual cheapening of ideals. (p. 32)

[In] Shadows, the imagery is the really eloquent force. Cassavetes aims for the unobtrusive observation of truth—the suddenly dramatic revelation of character in a commonplace environment. His insight into the complexities of white and Negro relationships in an urban environment, and his belief in capturing the looks, tones, and movements of people off-guard, brings him close to a kind of stylized documentary. (p. 33)

Despite the crudities of lens and the occasionally discordant soundtrack,… the truthfulness is inescapable, making Shadows a notably dynamic film gesture toward total reality. (p. 34)

Albert Johnson, "'Shadows'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1960 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XIII, No. 3, Spring, 1960, pp. 32-4.