4.22.2011

John Cassavetes and the movies




As can be seen in these images from his first feature, Shadows, John Cassavetes literally pushed classic Hollywood--the cinema of Cecil B. DeMille, Bob Hope, and Erroll Flynn--into the background, as if to say that The Ten Commandments is a pale, well, shadow of the "real life" that his own film succeeds in capturing.  Shadows was released in 1959; the very next year, three very different films (Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho) would collectively inaugurate modern cinema, each in its own particular way saying "fuck you" to the conventions of classical Hollywood.  The system that made The Ten Commandments possible would never really exist again.

Instead, Cassavetes--and Godard and Antonioni and (late) Hitchcock--helped usher in a modern cinema of ambiguity and irresolution, of narratives that ebbed and jerked or washed in like waves instead of hopping from one plot point to the next.  Shadows ends not with a denouement but by casually going adrift, wandering into the night along with its characters.  Its rhythms and moods are the rhythms and moods of jazz--unpredictable, ragged, fresh, mutable.  And, like jazz, Shadows announces itself as improvisation, an experiment.  Cassavetes defines the New York approach to film: the streets over the studio, low-budget over big-budget, rough over smooth, realism over artifice, the flaw over perfection, messiness over neatness, darkness over light.  

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