Shadows (John Cassavetes / U.S., 1959):

Itís a matter of tenor, this Nouvelle Vague gig: "You ever hear Jelly Roll sung like an opera?" The fringes of the fringes, John Cassavetesí turf, an impressionistic whirl worth a thousand fumbled words. An artistís dilemma, naturally, the lounge baritone (Hugh Hurd) whose song is unceremoniously cut short to make way for a row of seedy chorines. His brother (Ben Carruthers) is a trumpeter with shades forever pined to his clenched visage, his sister (Lelia Goldoni) is an aspiring novelist eager to venture into the teeming city. (Her night stroll through Times Square is a rough marvel, a Bardot cutout is spotted amidst a galaxy of neon while a pushy wolf is warded off by a familiar hepcat.) "What the hell is a literary party?" Sartreís existentialism is brought up along with an stripperís art in a Minnellian little interlude, where the heroine ditches her manager for a suitor (Anthony Ray). Their love scene in his apartment is filmed under the aegis of Renoir's Partie de Campagne, the freshly devirginized girl sits up against a dusky background and laments the dearth of magic: "Instead, weíre just two strangers." A highly variegated snapshot of diner booths, sidewalks, studios and terminals, a sustained rediscovery of the face in close-up, volatile and vulnerable. The drama and the comedy spring from "a problem with the races, thatís all" (cf. Davesí Kings Go Forth), the hippest spot in town is not immune to a prejudice that can terminate a romance with a single glance. "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow..." The jaunt through the museum garden affords a joking study of a bulbous Lachaise nude, the cranky cabbie warbling "I Love You Truly" points up the debt to Capra. I Vitelloni before it and La Pyramide Humaine still ahead, Scorsese in Whoís That Knocking at My Door? is a diligent pupil. The close is a characteristic gesture, get into a fight and take your lumps and forge ahead, the Cassavetes cinema in other words. With Dennis Sallas, Tom Reese, Rupert Crosse, and David Pokitillow. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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