Rediscovery! Breaking News!
The legendary lost first version of Shadows discovered by Ray Carney

The first 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 here.

To read a personal account of Ray Carney's day by day search for the first version of Shadows, click here.

To read responses to Ray Carney's discovery by the world's press, click here.

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"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 earlier 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 unseen works 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 the present, 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 of Shadows.

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Press Release

Rediscovery: The legendary lost
first version of John Cassavetes’ Shadows discovered by Ray Carney

Noted 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, making enemies 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, with plot 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 too close 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 Paris Theater.

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 Institute “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 here.

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.

To read a personal account of Ray Carney's day by day search for the first version of Shadows, click here.

To read responses to Ray Carney's discovery by the world's press, click here.

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: raycarney@usa.net. His web site (http://www.Cassavetes.com) has much more information about the two versions of Shadows and about his career and publications.

High-resolution JPG images of Prof. Carney are available here.

 

A 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.

Note 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).

For a more detailed account of Ray Carney's discovery of the first version of Shadows, click here. 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 here. 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.

Al Ruban and Gena Rowlands claim that Cassavetes did not want the first version of Shadows shown. They are simply wrong. Click here to 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' Shadows

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 film’s participants who remember their own unique versions of the reality we all shared."—Maurice McEndree, producer and editor of Shadows

“Bravo! Cassavetes 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 Charity, Film 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 in 1960.

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 film.

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) and The 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 will open a new window in your browser. You may return to this page by closing that window or by clicking on the window for this page again.

For reviews and critical responses to Ray Carney's book on the making of Shadows, please click here.

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In addition, 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 $15.

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 presented here.)
  • 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 contributors)
  • 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 sequence)
  • Notes about the running times of both versions and information about dates and places of early screenings
  • A bibliography of suggested additional reading (including a note about serious mistakes in previous treatments of the film by other authors)

Very little 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.

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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 a check or money order to the address below. However you order the book or books, please provide the following information:

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