John Cassavetes's first film burst on the scene in 1959 like a thief in the night, stripping the American screen of a treasured possession-narrative closure-and leaving the ambivalence of real emotions. The film owed a certain debt to Italian neorealism, but with its poetry of immediacy, its Charles Mingus riffs shattering the silences and punctuating the dialogue, its racial theme already evolved into an existentialism of marginality, Shadows was as American as Lenny Bruce. Cassavetes hangs a tale on three black Manhattanites-Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) and her brothers Ben (Ben Carruthers) and Hugh (Hugh Hurd). To say that each suffers an identity crisis, to use the lingo of the day, is to minimize the breadth of these truly remarkable performances. Carruthers helped define a new range of film acting in his portrayal of the pathetically insecure Ben. He and his fellow vitelloni articulate the themes of the film, if not of Cassavetes's career: "If you feel it, you feel it, stupid."

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