Maverick filmmaker John Cassavetes’s directorial debut presented a raw slice of Beat-era bohemia. Shot on 16mm in Manhattan with a nonprofessional cast and crew, Shadows centers on struggling singer Hugh, his brooding brother Benny, and their sister Lelia. The film’s improvisational tone and stark visual style are complimented by musical interludes featuring bassist Charles Mingus, tenor saxophonist Shafi Hadi, and drummer Dannie Richmond. Critic Amos Vogel called it “a compassionate, violent portrayal of pickups and brawls, loneliness, casual affairs, and search for identity.”

Shadows was added to the National Film Registry in 1993, by the National Film Preservation Board.

"This is the only Cassavetes film made without a full script (it grew out of acting improvs), and rarely has so much warmth, delicacy, and raw feeling emerged so naturally and beautifully from performances in an American film." - Chicago Reader

"It is fitfully dynamic, endowed with a raw but vibrant strength, conveying an illusion of being a record of real people, and it is incontestably sincere." - New York Times

"Even decades later, it has a spark of exciting newness about it." - Film4 (UK)

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John Cassavetes
Running Time
87 minutes
35mm, B/W