Pull My Daisy

Criterion Files

John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959) is often cited as a watershed moment in American independent film, and Cassavetes himself rather conveniently historicized as our nation’s “first” independent filmmaker. Such historical designations are often used as a way to narrativize precedents to the 1980s and 1990s Sundance-emboldened independent film “movement” and draw historical equivalents to the practices of now and then. This tendency often positions Cassavetes’ undoubtedly important contributions in a way that simplistically juxtaposes his artistic efforts with that of, say, anybody from Jim Jarmusch to Quentin Taranatino, ignoring the essential differences in historical context and means of aesthetic expression between them while also conveniently evading the many other American “independent” filmmakers that came before Cassavates himself. While Cassavetes is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind filmmaker (excluding the many he has influenced), perhaps the biggest problem with this conventionally reductive veneration of Cassavetes is the notion that he acted alone, that he was an anomaly in an otherwise dominant system. John Cassavetes is undoubtedly one of America’s most important filmmakers, but seeing him as such an incongruity prevents us from understanding exactly why he was so important.

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