Legendary Lost Original Version of Cassavetes’ First Film Rediscovered By Boston University Professor
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(Boston, Mass.) — The never-released original version of pioneer independent filmmaker John Cassavetes’ first feature film has been found after a 17-year hunt by Boston University film studies Professor Ray Carney. The 16 mm rendition made in 1957-58 has been presumed destroyed. A second version, with two-thirds of the original footage replaced with new material, was released in 1959. The newly found original “Shadows” gets its world premiere this weekend at the Rotterdam Film Festival.
“Forty-five years after the creation of the first version, and fifteen years after Cassavetes’ death, the world will at last have a chance to see his first film,” said Professor Carney, a professor of Film and American Studies and director of Film Studies in the College of Communication’s Department of Film and Television. He maintains a Web site devoted to the filmmaker (www.cassavetes.com).
As a result of what he calls a “Rosebud” conversation shortly before Cassavetes’ death, Professor Carney launched an exhaustive hunt for the original “Shadows” print, contacting collectors and curators, interviewing surviving members of the cast and crew, and scouring archives. After face-to-face conversations with nearly 100 people, hundreds of phone calls, letters, and e-mail inquiries, and trips to more than a dozen cities, a tip finally led him to a family which had found the film in an attic.
“After seventeen years of searching,” Professor Carney said, “the lost print was located. It consists of two reels of 16 mm black-and-white Kodak Safety Film with optical sound. The first reel is 36 minutes long; the second 42 minutes, making a total running time of 78 minutes. The 16 mm print itself is too fragile and rare to be screened, but a video transfer has been made and can be projected.”
While searching for the “Shadows” original, Professor Carney coincidently discovered in the Library of Congress archives a never-released alternative version of Cassavetes’ breakthrough 1968 film “Faces” which was 18 minutes longer than the distributed version. When released, “Faces” was heralded as a turning point in the independent movement as the first non-commercial movie to be embraced by a mass American audience. The Library of Congress is restoring the alternate version.
Born in New York City, Cassavetes had a career spanning nearly 40 years as an actor, director, screenwriter, and producer. He died in 1989 at the age of 59.
A world renowned expert on the life and work of John Cassavetes, Professor Carney is the author of five books about Cassavetes as well as books on filmmakers Frank Capra, Carl Dreyer, and Mike Leigh. His next book is a history of American independent filmmaking titled “The Real Independent Movement: Beyond the Hype.”
Professor Carney’s most recent book, the monumental 550-page “Cassavetes on Cassavetes” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2001), based on conversations with the filmmaker in the final decades of his life, was praised by film critic Roger Ebert as “a labor of love, scholarship, and detective work. From a chaotic mountain of primary and secondary sources, Ray Carney has shaped the story of John Cassavetes’ life and work — using the words of the great director himself, and also calling on his colleagues and friends to supply their memories and revelations. ‘This is the autobiography he never lived to write,’ Carney says, but it is more: Not only the life story, but history, criticism, homage, lore. Like a Cassavetes film, it bursts with life and humor, and then reveals fundamental truths.’”
The Film Studies program at Boston University’s College of Communication provides a comprehensive examination of film while ensuring that students receive a strong liberal arts education. It focuses on three critical areas: film studies, screenwriting, and film production. Boston University, with an enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.