A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959)

Ben Carruthers in Shadows
Ben: Ben Carruthers
Lelia: Lelia Goldoni
Hugh: Hugh Hurd
Tony: Anthony Ray
Dennis: Dennis Sallas
Tom: Tom Reese
David: David Pokitillow
Rupert: Rupert Crosse

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenplay: John Cassavetes
Cinematography: Erich Kollmar
Film editing: John Cassavetes, Maurice McEndree

You probably have to like John Cassavetes's later movies more than I do to appreciate Shadows beyond its historical significance. Even the most-praised films in his oeuvre leave me feeling itchy and annoyed, wondering why he has to inflict his hysterical people on me. That said, there's an innocence about Shadows -- chaotic and scattershot as it is -- that I can relate to. It has some good moments: Lelia Goldoni's fresh beauty and the crushing scene in which her character's losing her virginity turns out to be painful and disappointing; Ben and his loutish friends cavorting in the MOMA sculpture garden; the painfully pretentious party-goers yattering on about existentialism; and almost any scene in which Rupert Crosse, playing Hugh's manager, is present, looming with amusement over the action. But though it captures something about the New York scene on the cusp of the 1960s that's as valuable as anything that Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut did for the Paris scene, I keep wishing it were like their films: more polished and focused. Maybe that's because Cassavetes was almost too much of an auteur, too self-conscious about being a rebel. Andrew Sarris, that connoisseur of auteurs, found him "an unresolved talent" who "hovers between offbeat improvisation and blatant contrivance. Somehow his timing always seems to be off a beat or two even when he understands what he is doing." There are those who think that Shadows misses the mark because it isn't about what it seems to be about: race and sex. But if I value the film for anything it's for its decision not to preach or postulate about those or any other topics. And because it loosened up American movies, foreshadowing the best of the early Martin Scorsese, like Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976).

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