John Cassavetes R. E. Durgnat - Essay

R. E. Durgnat

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The characters in Shadows] are shadows because they are classless, rootless, virtually raceless, and hemmed in by an ideology of competitiveness which forces on the individual an individualism run mad and, faced with the "simple" things, can only despise or (which comes to the same thing) sentimentalise them.

The film is sometimes agonising (Lelia's disappointment after her first sexual experience: "I never knew love could be so awful!") but taken all in all its humour is too scathing, it has too much warmth, vitality and sense of friendship to be downbeat. On the contrary, its frankness has a truly liberating effect….

For here is a film with neither false aesthetic "distance" nor a forced lyricism; no formal "style" is allowed to impose an unreal dignity or coldness on the characters; even the comic relief is derived, realistically, from the story's emotional situations and not derived from them…. The improvisational form frees the narrative from the conventional dramatic "emphases" and the excessive psychological clarity of constructed plots. Its study of everyday conversation—the nuances, the sudden spurts and withdrawals of feeling—is as entertaining as it is full of insights.

Shadows isn't the first film to be improvised, it's not the first good film about contemporary youth, it's not the first good film about Negroes. But it is all these things with such thoroughness that its example is going to be very influential indeed. And it's chock full of truth. (p. 30)

R. E. Durgnat, "New Films: "Shadows'" (© copyright R. E. Durgnat 1960; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 7, No. 2, November, 1960, pp. 29-30.