1.1. The Characterization in Shadows
In starting to analyze Shadows, we will briefly look at the background of the film. As for Shadows, the first version and the second version exist. The film, which can be seen now, is the second version.
When Cassavetes held a preview of the first version, the film was highly praised by the audience.
Cassavetes filmed and edited again saying that he had no intention to make a film that was so beautiful and highly praised. His intention was to give people a kind of a shock and to let people notice something different from the ordinary film. Also he thought, in the first version, the existence of the characters was not clear enough. So in the second version, the style in the first version cannot be seen. According to Thierry Jousee, the mere difference is that the second version includes the scenes of the visit to the Museum of Modern Art and the night of love between Leria and Tony.
Later, we will see the meaning of Cassavetesf adding these scenes.
Moreover, for Cassavetes, Shadows owes the special meaning because it is not only his first film but also the film completely made by his own will. Moreover, Cassavetes said about Shadows as follows; gLa grand difference entre Shadows et autres films, cfest que Shadows emane des personnages, alors que dans les autres films, ce sont les personnages qui emanent du scenariog.1 @The difference between Shadows and other films is that Shadows is born from the characters and the characters in other films are born from the scenarios. As his words indicate, in Shadows, the plot which seems to be as common cannot be seen. It draws from a few days of the charactersf common life. To describe the charactersfs life vivdly, the characters had to be characterized such as Hugh as an unknown jazz singer, Leria as a would-be novelist. Ben, the second brother, was made up with a complicated figure.
As Sigehiko HasumiAa leading film critic-scholar noted about him, Ben may be the typical person who reflectes the time, namely the late-fifties to sixties. In later films after Faces, no character appears to represent the time and manners.2
We will turn our attention to what makes the characters living and striking. In Shadows, the tie of the family and the fact of being Negroes connect the three brothers, Hugh, Ben and Leria, who are the protagonists. The three brothers play their own roles as the members of a family, such as Hugh playing the father-mother role and Leria as a baby. The oldest brother Hugh supports his brothers financially and mentally. He gives them money and protects them from the outside. Also, for Hugh and Ben, Leria may be a princess or a queen. In the same way, for Leria, her brothers should be the knights.@
The mere difference of the brothers is that Hugh is the only one who has the absolute identity as a Negro. It seems necessary that at least Hugh should recognize his identity because he occupies the supportive and directive position in his brothers. As the American film critic Diane Jacobs suggests,g we see him [Hugh] as a frazzled father figure (lending his brother money, babying her sister)h.3
Besides, we notice in him the dilemma as an artist. He used to be a jazz singer. But his job has been changed and has to be the introducer of showgirls at a nightclub. It is a very insulting job for him, but he has to take this kind of job for his and his brothersf living. Taking an undesirable job for living can be considered as the eternal problem for the artist. The thing is that he is no longer a jazz singer but the outsider of the nightclub at this point when he has to be an introducer. In another sense, Hugh may be regarded as inferior to white female dancers in the nightclub. His identity as a black jazz singer is neglected. Hugh can be regarded as the pre-figure of Mr. Sophistication in The Killing of the Chinese Bookie.
As for Ben, Ben repeatedly tries to cross the streets ignoring the running cars. He looks as if he were making a bet and spoiling his life. His character is quite difficult to define; whether he is arrogant or sensitive. His ambiguous@character is emphasized by his sun-glasses which conceal all his feelings. His ambiguous character might have originated from his ambiguous identity: being half-black and half-white. The ambiguity that pervaded the whole film causes the two brothers to be indecisive. The audience cannot judge whether they are black or white because the screen is ironically gray. The gray screen effectively emphasizes the ambiguity of the complexion of the brothers.
Regarding Leria, she looks like a timid and innocent child in the street outside. When we recall the scene in which Leria stands in front of the theater at one night, looks into the poster of Brigitte Bardot and then a strange guy says a word to her, she becomes astonished and frightened. In a way, she is still girlish and has romantic dreams. After she has slept with Tony, she says, g I did not think it (sex) could be so awfulh. These two incidents may teach her the dreariness of real life.
Ben and Leria look very fragile and fluid, for they feel ambiguous about their identity whether they belong to the white society or black society. But Leriafs assertion g I am what I am. Nobody tells me what to do.h or gI belong to meh may be pervaded in all the ambiguous characters of Cassavetes such as Myrtle in Opening Night or Sarah in Love Streams. They never lose themselves even if they feel uncertainty and ambiguity.
Benfs friends who hang around the streets with him are white. The girls whom Ben tries to seduce in the bar are also white. Leriafs boyfriends, David and Tony are white, too. The literature party where Leria goes and meets Tony is formed by whites. In contrast, the party, which Hugh holds at his home, is occupied mostly by black people. These facts soundly substantiate the fact that only Hugh recognizes his identity as a Negro. Ben and Leria tend to decide their identity by the people who surround them. The negative reaction, which Leria shows to her new boyfriend Davey, when she has been first introduced to him by her black friend, is interpreted as her reaction and hesitation on entering into black society.
1.2. The Film Style in Shadows
Now that we have looked at the protagonistsf characterization,
we must examine what the two added scenes in the second version
mean in the film structure in connection with the characterization.
The scene of the Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art
is one of the scenes added in the second version.
In the Sculpture Garden scene, we can find an interesting feature and the meaning of adding this scene. By watching Benny and his friends freqently walking without destination, we see in them the figures of the city flaneur. They wonder in the city at night. In that sense, it seems rather exceptional that Benny and his friends go to the Museum, because they have a clear destination and reason to go there. This scene is interesting in that Cassavetes gave them a clear destination once on this occasion. Benny and his friends decide to go to the Museum, for Leria slights them because they cannot understand the art. So to speak, this scene may be derived from the digression of the conversation. They wonder in the Sculpture Garden. Finally, Benny and his friend stop to stare at the black ethnic female statue. The female statue reminds us of Bennyfs origin as a Black African. This scene might have been added with the purpose of dropping a hint of Bennyfs origin.
Another important aspect of this scene is its film style.
If we look at its film style, we will notice that it includes semi-symmetrical structure. If we briefly epitomize it, the pattern is as follows: long shot (three people in the same interval)¨@middle shot (three people) ¨@middle shot (separated) ¨@middle shot (three people in the same interval) ¨@close-up (one person) ¨ long shot (three people gathered) ¨ close-up (three person) ¨@close-ups (three people respectively). What we see from this is that Cassavetes shows three people all together and then puts two or one people in one frame. They go to the Museum, but their own interest is different. While Dennis and Tom are talking about the art and the scholars, Benny stares at the sculptures. Even if they spend much time together, we may know that they just wonder together because they do not have a clear aim for life. In a way, this Sculpture Garden scene supports Bennyfs separation from this company at the end. Besides, this semi-symmetrical structure gives this scene a kind of rhythm. In the last part of the scene, when they run to the African-woman-statue (see figure 1), the rhythm changes. Cassavetes neatly avoids this scene being monotonous by changing the rhythm. We may find their young rapidness and energy in it.
Most of the shots in this film are filmed in the brothersf apartment. We can find only a few outdoor scenes such as the sequence in Central Park, the scene in the Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art and the streets in Brooklyn. They function to make the brothersf exclusiveness more salient.
Let us now consider the brothersf isolation focusing on indoor scenes. Cassavetesf gcamera underscores its insularity by closing in on a buzzerg.4 As Diane Jacobs notices, the close-up shots that show the buzzer seem to tell us about uncommunicativeness and isolation from the outside world. Also the white pillar near the door locks the brothersf territory from the outside. The apartment is doubly locked from the outside.
If we recall the scene in which Tony revisits the brothersf home, we can see that the pillar works like a pivot effectively. Tony asks Hugh to tell his apology to Leria, but Hugh has no ear to listen to Tonyfs words. In Hughfs place, Ben tries to listen to Tonyfs words. Hugh and Benny stand by both sides of the pillar. They change their places with the pillar working like a pivot. This scene has a symmetrical structure. It embodies Hughfs words to Ben that gWe are friends, buddies, brothersh.
Also Ben tells Hugh that Hughfs problem is Benfs problem, too.
The brothers build their miniature world in the apartment. They can have a party at home. The home might be a place of refugee from the harsh outside world for them. When Ben and Leria go to outside, they are forced to notice the colors of their skin or their identity whether they like it or not.
From now on, we are going to look at the style and camerawork in this film. Two points will be emphasized: first, the clear, visual and suggestive metaphors; second, the relationship between the close-ups and the story. Let us begin our analysis of the visual metaphors. In the scene at the Central Park, David, Leria and Tony walk in the Park. Tony takes Leriafs hand and starts running when David is not looking at them. (David and Tony are both fond of Leria.) They continue to run and cross the hedge until David cannot reach them. Leria and Tony would have a sexual relationship after this scene. So their jumping off the hedge has a connotation of their having sex. After they have slept together, the camera casts a blank, black space. Then it trucks down with showing the African, weird wooden idol (see figure 2) and later it shows Leria and Tony. In this connection I may add the fact that this wooden statue was hung in Cassavetesf own room. Raymond Carney considers this wooden idol and the sculptures in the Sculpture Garden such as the symbol of the mask, which is contrasted with human skin.5 But I prefer to think this wooden statue suggests Leriafs original identity as a Black African. What is common in these sculptures is that their existence shows their origin. Both appear to be giving the impression of a giant existence, which cannot be ignored. The statuesf giant-ness shows the gravity of the brothersf identity with half-black lineage.
The sex scene between Leria and Tony was added in the second version as I mentioned before. We can see Leriafs overdone pathetic attitude after sex. At first, she acts like a tragic heroine, a discarded woman. And later as she finds Tonyfs insincerity, which is his true nature, she becomes uncertain and pretends like an innocent girl. Her exaggerated attitude seems curious, because her intention is obvious that she wants to be treated as a princess even after sex and needs her loverfs faithfulness. Many critics consider this scene as the most astonishing one in this film. We may be moved by this scene, for knowing how less Tony and Leriafs words tell their true mind and for recognizing that if two persons stay closer and have a physical relationship, the distance between them remains the same. In this sequence, what is most astonishing is that we can clearly see how Leriafs expectation and Tonyfs intention are so different. After all, they would not get along together. @@
Also, in the last part of the film, when Tony comes to Leriafs apartment in order to apologize to her for showing the racist attitude, he says that there is no difference between Leria and himself even though Leria is a half-black. At this moment, Leriafs face is directed with a spotlight on. Her face looks very white because of the lighting. This device can be taken as quite ironic in the sense that Leriafs face looks whiter than in any other scene. As we see, the visual metaphors in Shadows are quite clear to interpret. This kind of visual metaphor gradually becomes less and less in later films.
The film-work should be noted at this juncture. Most of the audience will notice that the close-ups are used very frequently. The close-ups have many types such as the fragment of the human face or the body or the whole faces. Raymond Carney analyzes Cassavetesf close-ups.
His favorite shot at a climatic moment is not an expressive close-up, nor a close-up at all, but a medium-distance shot that includes more than one character, in which we donft quite know where to look, what we are supposed to see, or what conclusions we are meant to draw.6
His suggestion seems to tell the point in a way. What Cassavetesf camera shows us is that not only one characterfs response but also the other charactersf responses around one character can be put in the same frame.
At this place, to borrow an argument about the close-ups of a German film critic, Bera Varage, he points out that when a face occupies all over the screen by the close-up, for a few moments a face becomes the whole and the drama is included in the face. Also close-ups show us ga small lifeh.7
Surely Cassavetesf close-ups present us a small life and small feeling. We can say that in his film, the faces are the roots of his drama. On the faces and by the minimal movement on the faces, we are able to find Cassavetes-like drama.
Cassavetes might prefer the close-ups of three characters taken from a short distance. The frames are filled with the charactersf faces. He has rarely used cross-cutting in the climatic moment. A kind of intensity and abundance born from the characterfs body is taking place in the frame. Normally in the close-up scenes, the charactersf bodies are disconnected with space, but the characters are connected with each other on a metaphysical level. Gilles Deleuze, a French philosopher, wrote about the relationship between space and people in Cassavetesf films. hThis is because it was a matter of undoing place, no less as a function of a face which is abstracted from spacio-temporal co-ordinates than of an event which exceeds it actualisation in all ways, sometimes because it procrastinates and dissolves, sometimes on the contrary because it comes into view too quickly".8 In Cassavetesf films, the people do not share common space, or rather they change into an existence, which is disconnected with space and connected with each other.
Raymond Carney argues about the connection between the close-ups and the story. hThe close-ups work to let one character connect strongly to other charactersf democratically equal group.
Shadows is a film about mutual confrontation of the groupsh.9 Or rather, I would say that Shadows should be defined as the film of the triads. The characters are parted into the trios. Hugh, Benny and Leria are the trio of the family. Benny, Denny and Tom form a trio of a company. Hugh, Rupert and Jack, the jazz pianist, construct camaraderie at the nightclub. Leria, Tony and David / Leria, Tony and Davey show love triangles. We can see various types of trios in Shadows. Each trio has its own problem and when the trios get strangled, another problem will be born. The fact that the story tells the triosf life responds to many shots including three people. We can see various patterns of shots with three people (see figures 3-7).
Finally every trio except the family trio seems to dissect into an individual. When Ben and Leria do not figure out their true identity, they have nowhere to go but to their home or to their family.
Likewise, when they recognize their identity as Negroes, they have to go back to their family. From the beginning, the brothers are the only ties that are certain in the film.
This paper was submitted to the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, University of Kyoto in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in January 1999. I am deeply indebted to Dr. David Duly for improving the style of this paper.
Carney, ed., John Cassavetes: Autoportraits. Trans. Serge Grunberg.
Paris: Editions de lfEtoile, 1992. 15.
2 Filmart-Sha, ed., Cassavetesf Streams. Tokyo: Filmart-Sha, 1993. 120-122. All translations are my own.
3 Diane Jacobs, Hollywood Renaissance. New York: Dell Publishing Co, 1980. 36.
4 Loc. cit.
5 Raymond Carney, The Films of John Cassavetes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 36-37.
6 Ibid., 18-19.
7 Bela Balazs, Shikakuteki Ningen: Eiga no Doramatsurugi.[Der sichtbare Mensch: eine Film-Dramaturgie] Trans. Kiichi Sasaki. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1986. 91-92.
8 Gilles Deuleuze, Cinema 1: Movement-Image.[LfImage-Mouvement]. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson et al. Texas: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. 121.
9 Raymond Carney, Cassavetes no Utsusita America. [American Dreaming: The Films of John Cassavetes and the American Experience]. Trans. Yoichi Umemoto. Tokyo: Keiso Shobo, 1997. 46.
All translations are my own because this original book is out of print now.