Although I’ve yet to experience any of the work John Cassavetes provided outside of A Woman Under the Influence and Shadows, it’s already very clear how this acclaimed director utilises style and the people he comes in contact with. Shadows, his directorial debut, marks a strong opener to a series of films that would share narrative and character consistencies. Absorbed by love and romance in The Big Apple, this coherent musing on the fragility of loose attention spans a flurry of engaging characters who seem to do nothing but get under the skin of one another. It’s the perfect setting, the perfect style, and a shaky start to a career that would shape some incredibly relevant and provocative criticisms of lower-middle-class lifestyles.
Cassavetes may not be remembered for his work on Shadows, and that is a shame. Instantaneously, it’s clear where his motifs come from, his eye and camera lingering on the awkward jolts in motion from his characters. Their love and hate for each individual they come into contact with lingers around the edges of the screen with such force, he builds a world where struggling artists convene with one another, a trope that today has been done to the point of overexposure, but this early injection into the sub-genre is a fascinating display, and an emotive one at that.
Characters that natter over one another, it’s not that they don’t have any respect for their fellow man or woman, but they simply feel their idea or argument is stronger. Cassavetes presents a palette of strong, broad characters who, thanks to some tremendous writing, make for engaging individuals. We mull around jazz clubs with them, their day to day lives a constant strain of conflict with those they work with or spend the most time with. Every interaction or scene in the movie holds within it a type of negative dispute or quarrel, whether that be over business or personal hardship. Love, money, little slights that grate on the characters around them, everyone has their vice, but it seems the characters littered within Shadows have more than their fair share.
Cassavetes’ ability to draw in an audience to characters we’ve never previously seen and spend such little time with is a credit to the amazing work he would create in his time. As much a romance piece as it is a dive into the minds of struggling musicians, something that would be adapted and peddled to the mainstream time and time again decades later, Shadows is a fresh vision of what life could have been like, the highs and lows of performing, processing the difficult times, and falling in love when such a feeling would steal away from the professional lifestyle and dedication to their craft. It’s a hopeful film, one filled with that glowing feeling of keeping your head held high through the toughest of times, a charming message we can all find solace in to this day.