Thursday, February 25, 2010

SHADOWS (John Cassevetes, 1959, USA)

A trinity of youth is eclipsed by the penumbra of social expectations, their identities sublimated by the ubiquitous disease of racism. Writer/Director John Cassevetes debut film is a tour de force of passionate dialogue and emotional thunder, a brief interlude into three small lives in one big city.

The film revolves around a Benny, Hugh, and Lelia; siblings who must live with the stigma inherent in the pigment of their skin. Benny is a rebel, his James Dean languor and shy good looks his only accomplishments. His brother Hugh is a struggling jazz singer who must lower his standards to get a gig. And Lelia is a naïve temptress, discovering the deep recesses of her desire by toying with her boyfriends. Each loses faith in themselves and tires of their oppressive struggles, and must rely on imperfect familial bonds for survival. Lelia is disgusted when she loses her virginity to a charming rogue and soon discovers the seeds of racism planted in his heart. Benny loses one too many fistfights while Hugh curses his own talent.

Cassevetes eschews plot to create a tumultuous narrative whose irascible characters verbally spar and confront each other…and themselves. The cinematography is rendered with hand-held cameras to affect a claustrophobic intimacy: from crowded nightclubs to the hard edges of a depressing afterglow, we join in the suffering, camaraderie, and antagonism. Charles Mingus’s angry jazz suffuses the film with its tremulous tempo, counterbalanced by the forlorn saxophone of Shafi Hadi.

Each experiences the extremes of the human experience, from love to rejection, victory to resound defeat, but retains their individuality in the face of adversity. They are born amid the busy streets of New York City, and live amid the shadows of giants. 

Final Grade: (B)

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