John Cassavetes’s exquisite and poignant first feature (1959), shot in 16-millimeter and subsequently blown up to 35, centers on two brothers and a sister living together in Manhattan; the oldest (Hugh Hurd), a third-rate nightclub singer, is visibly black, while the other two (Ben Carruthers and Lelia Goldoni) are sufficiently light skinned to pass for white. This is the only Cassavetes film made without a script, and the only one that focuses mainly on young people, with the actors improvising their own dialogue (and, to increase the feeling of intimacy, using their own first names for their characters). Rarely has so much warmth, delicacy, subtlety, and raw feeling emerged so naturally and beautifully from performances in an American film. This movie is contemporaneous with early masterpieces of the French New Wave such as Breathless and The 400 Blows, and deserves to be ranked alongside them for the freshness and freedom of its vision; in its portrait of Manhattan during the beat period, it also serves as a poignant time capsule. With Tony Ray (the son of director Nicholas Ray), Rupert Crosse, Dennis Sallas, Tom Allen, and Davey Jones–all very fine–and a wonderful jazz score by Charles Mingus. It’s conceivable that Cassavetes made greater films than this, but it’s the one I’ve seen and cherish the most. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, October 11 through 17)

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