“I’m not one of them storybook characters,” a charismatic young man assures his girl of the moment. As the plot develops, we watch the girl be seduced and then disillusioned by the man she thought was one-of-a-kind. Her hard lesson captures in microcosm the appeal of adapting John Cassavetes’s 1959 film Shadows to the stage, a project taken on two years ago by the ensemble company Hoi Polloi and now in revival at the company’s new theatrical home, Jack in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Cassavetes’s film, his first, is a barely plotted, hyper-naturalized slice of life in the “shadows” of New York City’s jazz scene. The film’s credits call it an “improvisation,” a typically coy claim by Cassavetes to make his audience feel they’ve witnessed an authentic experience rather than a carefully crafted representation. (The film was made without a script, and most of the characters were given the same names as their actors, but that doesn’t mean the scenes were unplanned.) Bringing the film to theatrical life—scene by scene, line by line, gesture by gesture—is to be wiser than the girl. It is to be charmed but never tricked by those who claim to be “real,” but are, in fact, characters from a human imagination.
Shadows (#1–10 of 2)
Apropos of nothing but affection, here are some snippets from Cassavetes on Cassavetes, a book about actor-filmmaker John Cassavetes by Boston University professor, graduate studies director and film historian Ray Carney. Despite the straightforward title, it’s not a collection of transcripts and articles, but sort of a mosaic biography that fuses interviews from various sources (including Carney) with a candid assessment of Cassavetes the actor, writer, director, small businessman, theater impresario and barroom philosopher. Cassavetes’ first feature, 1959’s Shadows is generally thought of as the first modern American underground indie, a stateside cousin of such pioneering French New Wave features as Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Breathless. His filmography would grow to include Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Gloria.