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Shadows
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary with Cassavetes collaborator Seymour Cassel and film critic Tom Charity
  • Falk on Cassavetes: the early years (DVD only, 13 minutes)
  • 16mm footage of John Cassavetes and Burt Lane's acting workshop (DVD only, 4 minutes)
  • Theatrical trailer (DVD only, 4 minutes)
  • Fully illustrated booklet featuring new essays and notes from Michael Atkinson, Brian Morton and Tom Charity

Shadows

Dual Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: John Cassavetes
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni, Hugh Hurd, Anthony Ray, Dennis Sallas, Tom Allen, David Pokitillow, Rupert Crosse, Seymour Cassel
1959 | 82 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £19.99 | Series: BFI
BFI Video

Release Date: April 23, 2012
Review Date: April 24, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

Set amongst the lively milieu of artists and jazz musicians in bohemian 1950s New York, John Cassavetes' directorial debut follows the doomed relationship between a young mixed-race woman Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) and Tony (Anthony Ray), a white man who betrays his prejudice when he meets Lelia's brother, a struggling jazz singer. Shot on location with a cast and crew largely made up of amateurs and featuring a swinging, improvised score by Charles Mingus and Shafi Hadi, Shadows gave birth to a radical new film language grounded in authenticity, and is widely considered the first truly independent American film.


PICTURE

BFI begins working their way through the films of John Cassavetes starting with this new Blu-ray (dual-format) release of his first film, Shadows, presented here in a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a single-layer disc. Itís still the original release cut, not the early alternate cut that was discovered a few years ago. The Blu-ray is also an all region disc and should play on all Blu-ray players. It played fine on my North American PS3. The DVD contains PAL content.

Like most of Cassavetes films Shadows was shot quickly on 16mm with an incredibly small budget and because of this the film has a very rough look. Also not helping is that the restoration used for this transfer uses many sources so the quality of the image can vary severely from shot to shot. But all things considered, it still manages to look rather good. The image is grainy but it looks to be rendered perfectly without any real issues that stand out. Blacks can look a little washed and faded but contrast is otherwise strong and gray levels are clear and distinct.

Any shortcomings to be found here have to do more with the source than the transfer itself. There are plenty of marks and scratches, tram lines, and jumps. The picture is also about as sharp as the source allows, and there are moments where the level of detail is high, but generally speaking it does have a softer, almost out-of-focus look to it.

In comparison to the Criterion DVD it offers a subtle improvement but only in terms of the digital transfer. The DVD looks a bit noisy and had some trouble rendering the filmís grain, which isnít an issue here, and gray levels are also more distinct and cleaner here. Past that I couldnít detect too big of a difference otherwise so those hoping for maybe a clearer presentation will be disappointed as the source materials still hold it back, but the more filmic look of this transfer is still a very big plus for this presentation.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Like the video the lossless PCM mono track we get here is limited by the source materials. Cheaper audio equipment was used during the production and because of this the audio presentation is harshly limited. Dialogue is easy to hear mostly, but itís muffled and very flat. The jazzy score fairs a little better but not by much and can be a bit edgy. It isnít pretty but, like with Faces, this is probably as good as it gets.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

There are a few supplements spread across the Blu-ray disc and DVD found in this set, and it tops the Criterion edition of the film. First is an audio commentary by Seymour Cassel and film critic Tom Charity, which plays over both the high-def version of the film on the Blu-ray disc and the standard-def version on the DVD (I believe it was originally included on the Optimum Cassavetes box set, but donít know for sureóIím bewildered as to why Criterion didnít include it in their set.) Cassel carries the track as he reflects on the shoot and his role in it as producer/camera man/actor/whatever else. His primary focus is talking about how Cassavetes was able to pull off the film and his way of getting around certain costs, like how he was able to get around permits to shoot on location. Charity seems to be here mostly to ask questions and keep Cassel going while occasionally making his own comment about the film itself. At times Cassel seems to get a little defensive (like when Charity points out continuity errors,) and almost agitated when Charity brings up the alternate cut of the film (Cassel explicitly points out that the version we get here is indeed the ďdirectorís cutĒ.) Charity doesnít add too much but itís great yet again to get Cassel reminiscing on his work with Cassavetes.

The remaining supplements are found on the second disc, a dual-layer DVD. This proves to be a bit of an issue for certain people in North America. While technically and all-region release the DVDís material is presented in PAL, which may be a problem for some viewers.

The first supplement on here is a great 13-minute interview with actor Peter Falk put together from footage shot in 1993 by Paul Joyce. Here Falk talks about his familiarity with Cassavetesí work early on and then when he finally met the man, their friendship forming when they made Mikey and Nicky together. He then shares what Cassavetes told him about the filming of Shadows, how important the film was to the director, and then talks about Cassavetesí disappointment when he tried making films in Hollywood. Itís a lovely interview, though I was surprised there was no material on A Woman Under the Influence, other than a mention, though this could possibly have been saved for the eventual Blu-ray release coming from BFI later. A strong, if short, addition.

BFI then includes over 4-minutes worth of footage from one of Cassavetesí Workshops. This is the same silent material found on the Criterion DVD. Itís still a shame that itís silent but itís still great to view.

The filmís theatrical trailer is also presented here. BFI also supplies another of their incredible booklets. Michael Atkinson provides a great essay on the film and its impact followed by a piece by Brian Morton on the filmís Jazz score. We then get excerpts from a 1961 interview where Cassavetes talks about the making of the film and then a reprint of an original review for the film by Robert Vas, which appeared in a 1960 issue Monthly Film Bulletin. Thereís then a bio on Cassavetes (the same one found in the booklet for BFIís Faces release) and notes on the supplements that appear on the disc. Like always itís a great read and adds some real value to this edition.

Criterion has a few other items on their DVD edition but I think BFI has covered everything rather well. Itís also a shame that we still donít get the alternate cut to the film, but Gena Rowlands has been vocal on that cut never being released as it wasnít her husbandís preferred version. But despite the lack of much else BFI has included some great material here.

7/10

CLOSING

The film elements limit it and in comparison to the Criterion DVD there isnít too significant an upgrade but it does offer a cleaner, noise-free presentation which allows it to look more film like. But the supplements are also strong and are an improvement over what Criterion offered. It comes with a high recommendation.




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