Rediscovery! Breaking News!
The legendary lost
first version of Shadows discovered by Ray Carney
version of Shadows is one of Ray Carney's most important artistic
finds, but Professor Carney has made a name for himself as the discoverer
and presenter of many other new works of art prior to this. To read
about a few of his other cinematic and literary finds, click
To read a
personal account of Ray Carney's day by day search for the first version
of Shadows, click
To read responses to Ray Carney's discovery by the world's press, click
here for best printing of text
"Now, a lot of film buffs heard about the two versions of Shadows so
they said, 'We want to see the first version, which was the great version of
Shadows!' .... So we showed that first version of Shadows and they championed
it. They thought it was great.... That other version exists and ... is allowed
to be shown at any time...." —John Cassavetes in an interview with
Andre Labarthe, when he was asked whether he didn't want people to see the
version of Shadows or had suppressed the print of it.
It's not generally known that John Cassavetes made his first film, Shadows,
twice. He initially shot the film in 1957. But after the print was screened
a few times in 1958, he decided to reshoot much of the movie. In 1959 he deleted
approximately two-thirds of the footage from the original print and replaced
it with newly shot material. Though he continued to allow the first version
to be screened after that, at some point subsequent to the creation of the
second version, the first version (which had existed only as a single 16mm
print) disappeared. Even Cassavetes had no idea what had become of it.
The reshot second version of the film is the one that has come down
to us. For 45 years the first version has been one of the legendary
of cinema, generally believed to have been lost forever.
However, as the result of a “Rosebud” conversation with
Cassavetes shortly before the filmmaker’s death, Prof. Carney
concluded that the first version might still survive. From 1987 until
he spent his spare time pursuing scores of leads – calling up
collectors and curators, making announcements at film festivals, interviewing
every surviving member of the cast and crew, talking with anyone he
could locate who had seen the first version or who might have information
about the lost print.
After face-to-face conversations with close to
100 people, nearly a thousand phone calls, letters, and e-mail
inquiries, and trips to more than a dozen cities, the search paid off.
The first version of Shadows was finally
discovered. After 45 years, the world will again have the opportunity
to see the work that preceded the final release version
The legendary lost
of John Cassavetes’ Shadows discovered
by Ray Carney
critic and independent filmmaker Jonas
Mekas on the first version of Shadows – an excerpt
from his January 27, 1960
Village Voice “Movie Journal” column
“[After viewing the first version again] I have no further doubt
that whereas the second version of Shadows is just another Hollywood
film – however inspired, at moments – the first version
is the most frontier-breaking American feature film in at least
a decade. Rightly understood and properly presented, it could influence
and change the tone, subject matter, and style of the entire independent
American cinema.... Again, I stress that I am talking about the first
version of Shadows only. I shall be relentless in stressing
this point. For I want to be certain not to be misunderstood. I have
been put into
a situation, one in which a film critic can get into once in a lifetime
(I hope). I have been praising and supporting Shadows from
the very beginning ... writing about it, pulling everybody into it,
because of it (including the director of the film himself) – and
here I am ridiculously betrayed by an “improved” version
of that film, with the same title but different footage, different
setting, story, attitude, character, style, everything: a bad commercial
film, with everything that I was praising completely destroyed. So
everybody says: What was that critic raving about? Is he blind or something?
Therefore I repeat and repeat: It is the first version I was and am
still talking about.... I have no space for a detailed analysis and
comparison of the two versions. It is enough to say that the difference
is radical. The first Shadows could be considered as standing
at the opposite pole from Citizen Kane; it makes as strong
an attempt at catching life as Citizen Kane was making an
attempt at destroying life and creating art....
In any case [the first
version of] Shadows breaks with the
official staged cinema, with made-up faces, with written scripts,
continuities. Even its inexperience in editing, sound, and
camera work becomes part of its style, the roughness that only life
(and Alfred Leslie’s paintings) have. It doesn’t prove
anything, it doesn’t even want to say anything, but really it
tells more than 10 or 110 other recent American films. The tones and
rhythms of a new America are caught in [the first version of] Shadows for
the very first time.... [the first version of] Shadows has
caught more life than Cassavetes himself realizes. Perhaps now he is
to his work, but I am confident he will change his mind. And the sooner
the second version is taken out of circulation, the better. Meanwhile,
the bastardized version is being sent to festivals and being pushed
officially, while the true film, the first Shadows is being
treated as a step-child. It is enough to make one sick and shut up.”
A personal statement by Ray Carney
Shortly before Cassavetes’ death, I had several remarkable conversations
with him about his life and his work. I call them his “Rosebud” conversations
because he told me things that he had never said before publicly.
In the course of our wide-ranging discussion, we covered a lot
of territory, but one of the things I was most interested in was the
history of alternative versions of his films, and of Shadows in particular.
He told me that Shadows had been filmed twice and that the first version
had been filmed in 1957 and screened sometime in the fall of 1958 for
invited audiences at three free midnight screenings at New York’s
He told me that following those initial screenings, he decided to
re-shoot the movie, jettisoning much of the earlier footage,
and inserting large chunks of new material in its place. The print
that resulted, the second version of the film, premiered in Amos Vogel’s
Cinema 16 series on November 11, 1959. That second print is the one
that comes down to us today.
When I asked Cassavetes about the earlier print, he said that he had
no idea where it was and doubted that it survived. As far as he knew
it no longer existed. The odds of survival after almost fifty years
were made all the more unlikely considering the modesty of his filmmaking
operation in the late 1950s. Cassavetes told me that he had only had
enough money to make a single 16mm print of the first version and that
the earlier negative had been cut up when the second version was assembled.
It's important to note that Cassavetes was not opposed to screenings
of the first version of Shadows. And as the screening records in my
possession establish, he actually did hold public screenings of the
first version. For what it's worth, he also told me, near the end of
his life, that he would love to have the film found and screened again.
He wished he knew where it was. He wished it weren't lost. In short,
ALL of the evidence says the same thing. The filmmaker himself did
NOT want the first version destroyed, suppressed, or hidden away for
no one ever to see.
Cassavetes died a few years later. Given that the 1957-1958
print of Shadows – and not the 1959 version – was really
his first feature film, I set myself the task of determining once and
for all if the earlier print survived. I telephoned or emailed hundreds
of universities, film archives, collectors, critics, and others who
had had any connection with the early screenings to find out if they
had any leads as to the whereabouts of the first version. I interviewed
every surviving member of the cast and crew. I made announcements at
events I moderated. I traveled to dozens of cities visiting people
who thought they might have information about the early print.
The monograph I wrote about Shadows for the British Film
Classics” series and my self-published “A Detective
Story: Going Inside the Heart and Mind of the Artist” summarize
the state of my research as of two years ago. At the point I wrote
both pieces, nothing had came of my efforts. However, as I announced
more than a year ago, I did find a lost “long” print of
another Cassavetes’ film, Faces, in the course of looking
for the Shadows print. For information about the discovery
of the new print of Faces, click
Finally, after face-to-face conversations with close to
100 people, nearly a thousand phone calls, letters, and e-mail
inquiries, and trips to more than a dozen cities, the search paid off.
After seventeen years of searching, the first version
was located. It consisted of two
reels of 16mm black-and-white Kodak Safety Film with optical
sound stored in a standard fiberboard film container. The first reel
was 36 minutes long; the second 42 minutes, making a total running
time of 78 minutes. The 16mm print itself is too fragile and rare to
be screened, but a high quality DigiBeta video transfer has been made
and can be projected.
Forty-five years after its
creation, and fifteen years after the filmmaker's death, the world
will at last have a chance to see the work that preceded
the final release print of Shadows. It is like looking at
the sketchbooks that precede the final version of a painting, or the
notebooks of a
poet that eventuate in the final poem. It is a chance to peek into
the workshop of an artist and see Cassavetes' actual, unreleased first
film, the work that preceded the current print of Shadows.
My Cassavetes web site (http://www.Cassavetes.com), my Cassavetes
on Cassavetes book, and my Shadows BFI monograph contain detailed descriptions
of many of the things Cassavetes said to me about the film and more
information about the two versions.
a personal account of Ray Carney's day by day search for the first
version of Shadows, click
read responses to Ray Carney's discovery by the world's press, click
About the discoverer
Ray Carney is recognized as the world’s
expert on the life and work of John Cassavetes. He is Professor of
Film and American Studies at Boston University, and the author of five
books about Cassavetes, including The Films of John Cassavetes, Cassavetes
on Cassavetes, John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity,
and the Shadows volume in the BFI “Film Classics” series.
He has a web site focused on Cassavetes’ life and work at http://www.Cassavetes.com
and is a frequent speaker at film festivals and special events devoted
to American independent filmmaking.
Contact information: Ray Carney is available for interviews by email
at: email@example.com. His web site (http://www.Cassavetes.com) has
much more information about the two versions of Shadows and about his
High-resolution JPG images of Prof. Carney
are available here.
NOTE ABOUT SEEING THE FIRST VERSION OF SHADOWS
Gena Rowlands has expressed her desire to confiscate and suppress the print of the first version of Shadows. She has threatened legal action if Ray Carney shows it in public and refused to allow it to be released on videotape or disk. However, Ray Carney has been advised by intellectual property lawyers that the print and the right to screen it are completely and absolutely free of copyright restrictions and that it is his to screen and distribute as he sees fit.
also that the newly discovered first version of Shadows is
not to be confused with the so-called "restored" UCLA
print, which is merely a copy of the same print that has been
in circulation for the past forty-five years. The UCLA print
is identical to the existing version of Shadows. There
are no differences. The first version, on the other hand, is
a completely different film, with different scenes, shots,
and dialogue. (Click here to view three video clips from the first version of the film).
a more detailed account of Ray Carney's discovery of the first
version of Shadows, click
For more information about the attempts of Al Ruban and Gena
Rowlands to seize and suppress the print and prevent future
screenings of it, click
The top menu on both of the pages that will open has more choices
if you want to learn more about Rowlands, Ruban, and the Shadows situation.
Ruban and Gena Rowlands claim that Cassavetes did not want the
first version of Shadows shown. They are simply wrong. Click
read Ray Carney's response to a reader who asked about this issue.
What were Cassavetes' feelings about screenings of the first
version? Did he want it to be suppressed? Did he suppress it?
Publications by Ray Carney about John Cassavetes'
Ray Carney, Shadows (BFI
Film Classics, ISBN: 0-85170-835-8), 88
pages. This book is available directly from the author
via this web site for $20.
Ray Carney is a tireless
researcher who probably knows more about the shooting of Shadows than
any other living being, including Cassavetes when he was alive, since
Carney, after all, has the added input of ten or more of the films
participants who remember their own unique versions of the reality
we all shared."Maurice
McEndree, producer and editor of Shadows
is fortunate to have such a diligent champion. I am absolutely dumbfounded
by the depth of your research into this film.... Your appendix...is
a definitive piece of scholarly detective work.... The Robert Aurthur
revelation is another bombshell and only leaves me wanting to know
more.... The book movingly captures the excitement and dynamic Cassavetes
discovered in filmmaking; and the perseverance and struggle of getting
it up there on the screen."Tom
Editor, Time Out magazine
John Cassavetes Shadows is
generally regarded as the start of the independent feature movement
in America. Made for $40,000 with a nonprofessional cast and crew and
borrowed equipment, the film caused a sensation on its London release
The film traces the lives
of three siblings in an African-American family: Hugh, a struggling
jazz singer, attempting to obtain a job and hold onto his dignity;
Ben, a Beat drifter who goes from one fight and girlfriend to another;
and Lelia, who has a brief love affair with a white boy who turns on
her when he discovers her race. In a delicate, semi-comic drama of
self-discovery, the main characters are forced to explore who they
are and what really matters in their lives.
Shadows ends with the
title card "The film you have just seen was an improvisation," and
for decades was hailed as a masterpiece of spontaneity, but shortly
before Cassavetes death, he confessed to Ray Carney something
he had never before revealed – that much of the film was scripted.
He told him that it was shot twice and that the scenes in the second
version were written by him and Robert Alan Aurthur, a professional
Hollywood screenwriter. For Carney, it was Cassavetes Rosebud.
He spent ten years tracking down the surviving members of the cast
and crew, and piecing together the true story of the making of the
Carney takes the reader behind
the scenes to follow every step in the making of the movie – chronicling
the hopes and dreams, the struggles and frustrations, and the ultimate
triumph of the collaboration that resulted in one of the seminal masterworks
of American independent filmmaking.
Highlights of the presentation
are more than 30 illustrations (including the only existing photographs
of the dramatic workshop Cassavetes ran in the late fifties and of
the stage on which much of Shadows was shot, and a still showing
a scene from the "lost" first version of the film); and statements
by many of the film's actors and crew members detailing previously
unknown events during its creation.
One of the most interesting
and original aspects of the book is a nine-page Appendix that "reconstructs"
much of the lost first version of the film for the first time. The
Appendix points out more than 100 previously unrecognized differences
between the 1957 and 1959 shoots, all of which are identified in detail
both by the scene and the time at which they occur in the current print
of the movie (so that they may be easily located on videotape or DVD
by anyone viewing the film). Click here to view three brief video clips from the first version of the film.
By comparing the two versions,
the Appendix allows the reader to eavesdrop on Cassavetes' process
of revision and watch his mind at work as he re-thought, re-shot, re-edited
his movie. None of this information, which Carney spent more than five
years compiling, has ever appeared in print before (and, as the presentation
reveals, the few studies that have attempted to deal with this issue
prior to this are proved to have been completely mistaken in their
assumptions). The comparison of the versions and the treatment of Cassavetes'
revisionary process is definitive and final, for all time.
This book is available through University
of California Press at Berkeley, Amazon, Barnes
and Noble, and in England through Amazon (UK)
British Film Institute. For a limited time, the Shadows book
is also available directly from the author (in discounted, specially
autographed editions) via this web site. See
information below on how to order this book directly from the author
by money order, check, or credit card (PayPal).
Clicking on the above links
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For reviews and critical responses
to Ray Carney's book on the making of Shadows, please click
* * *
a packet comparing the two versions of Shadows is available: A
Detective Story – Going Inside the Heart and Mind of the Artist:
A Study of Cassavetes' Revisionary Process in the Two Versions of
Shadows. Available direct from the author through this site for
This packet contains the following
material (most of which was not included in the BFI Shadows book):
- An introductory essay about
the two versions of the film
- A table noting the minute-by-minute,
shot-by-shot differences in the two prints. (In the British Film
Institute book on Shadows, this table appears in a highly
abridged, edited version, at less than half the length and detail
- A conjectural reconstruction
of the shot sequence in the 1957 print
- A shot list for the 1959
re-shoot of the film
- The credits exactly as
presented in the film (including typographical and orthographical
vagaries indicating Cassavetes' view of the importance of various
- An expanded and corrected
credit listing that includes previous uncredited actors and appearances
(e.g. Cassavetes in a dancing sequence; Gena Rowlands in a chorus
girl sequence; and Danny Simon and Gene Shepherd in the nightclub
- Notes about the running
times of both versions and information about dates and places of
- A bibliography of suggested
additional reading (including a note about serious mistakes in previous
treatments of the film by other authors)
of this material was included in the BFI book on Shadows due
to limitations on space. This 85-page (25,000 word) packet is not for
sale in any store
and is available exclusively through this site for $15.
* * *
The Shadows BFI book and the
packet about the two versions of the film may be obtained directly from
the author, by using the Pay Pal Credit Card button below, or by sending
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