One-Night Stands

Gridlock in Paris, Gunfights in L.A.

Shelton is basically a lighthearted director, and for all its indifferently choreographed pratfalls, bullet-fueled slapstick, rollicking bumper cars, madcap police interrogations, and hee-haw autopsy gags, Hollywood Homicide is primarily an antic sitcom. The surplus of character humor seems all the more desperate in view of the essentially humorless stars. (Do I smell sequel—or is that only flop sweat?) Moonlighting as a real estate broker, deadbeat Ford is forever trying to unload his house and fending off the repo men. While Hartnett is a Buddhist babe magnet who never lacks for a naked honey in his hot tub, Ford is given a bizarre sex scene with Lena Olin and a frosted donut. Forced to play rambunctious, the obviously bored star never gets any respect—at one point in his pursuit of the bad guy he's compelled to commandeer a little girl's Schwinn.

As its title suggests, Hollywood Homicide is heavy on local color. Everybody is peddling a script or wants to be a star, especially young Hartnett: "I have to follow my bliss." There's a gunfight in front of Grauman's Chinese, a shoot-out in an agent's office, and a car chase through Beverly Hills that's reported live: "I've never seen such drama in Hollywood before," the reporter enthuses. Whose voice is that? Hollywood Homicide knows it's a dog, and it ain't too proud to beg.

An impacted road romance: Lemercier and Lindon in Friday Night
photo: Wellspring
An impacted road romance: Lemercier and Lindon in Friday Night


Friday Night
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Denis and Emmanuèle Bernheim, from the novel by Bernheim
Opens June 20, at the Quad

Hollywood Homicide
Directed by Ron Shelton
Written by Shelton & Robert Souza
In release

Written and directed by John Cassavetes
June 19 through 29, at Anthology

Arguably the founding work of the American independent cinema, John Cassavetes's 1959 Shadows is the prototype for Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, and all their progeny. Cassavetes's first feature, which is receiving a 10-day run at Anthology Film Archives in a newly restored print, was a one-film American new wave; with his aggressive sincerity and swaggering integrity, Cassavetes became the prototype for the American independent director—the Method actor turned filmmaker.

Shadows can be bracketed with Breathless, completed the same year, as a low-budget, post-neorealist, pre-cinema-verité Something New. Both are predicated on handheld camera, stolen locations, elliptical editing, and extended bedroom scenes featuring self-conscious performances by 20-year-old actresses acting like they are characters in a movie. But Shadows is more episodic and performer-driven. Using the members of a drama workshop he directed, Cassavetes shot 30 hours of footage based on their improvisations. The Charles Mingus score later added makes the jazz analogue explicit. Indeed, as the movie's principals are black, white, and mulatto, race is crucial to the movie. So is authenticity. Anticipating life in a Warhol movie, Cassavetes's performers struggle to remain in character (in the now) despite miscues, blown lines, and unforeseen improvisations; much of Shadows' naturalism derives from applying a workshop sense of invented personalities to everyday life and a corresponding failure of the characters—or is it the actors?—to successfully live up to their images.

Opening commercially in New York in March 1961 (a month after Breathless), Shadows impressed The New York Times as a near documentary "shot without benefit of a screenplay, without a word of dialogue written down, without a commanding director to tell the actors precisely what to do." In fact, the movie had been substantially reshot and re-edited since its first public screening in late 1958. It's appropriate that the restored print is having its premiere at Anthology's Jonas Mekas Theater. Then writing for the Voice, Mekas was Shadows' greatest critical champion, at least until Cassavetes revised the movie for narrative coherence a year later. Ray Carney has published a framework for the original version in his BFI Shadows monograph. It would be an amazing event if the ur-Shadows were ever to re-emerge.

Related Article:
"The Sound of Sex: The Tindersticks' Soundtracks for Claire Denis" by Dennis Lim

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