The late John Cassavetes gains more respect from critics every year, and slowly this is translating into popularity with the wide audience that eluded him during much of his filmmaking career. The latest sign is the long-delayed release of these two early works on video.
Although he was himself a Hollywood star, playing leads in commercial hits like ''The Dirty Dozen'' (1967) and ''Rosemary's Baby'' (1968), the hallmark of the movies he directed is a radical rejection of glossy formulas, glamorous performances, and slick visual effects. What he sought was the unadorned, often confusing reality of everyday people facing the discontents and disaffections of their lives.
''Shadows,'' released in 1959, is a story of youth, studying three New Yorkers coping with racial and romantic tensions on the fringes of the Beat Generation scene. Originally an exercise in improvised acting, it was reworked from a carefully prepared script by Cassavetes. It features vivid performances by Ben Carruthers, the gifted Lelia Goldoni, and the multitalented Hugh Hurd as the siblings at the center of the loosely woven plot.
''Faces,'' released in 1968, is a story of middle age, focusing on an unhappy suburban couple who seek false comfort in extramarital affairs during a long, desperately unfulfilling night. John Marley and Lynn Carlin play the restless husband and wife, strongly supported by Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel, regular Cassavetes collaborators. Cassel and Carlin won Academy Award nominations for their work, as did Cassavetes for his screenplay.
Both films are abrasive at times, delving into bewildering behaviors and moral complexities that the characters sadly fail to understand. What's undeniable is the propulsive honesty and unstoppable energy of their black-and-white images and the foreshadowing they provide of later Cassavetes movies like ''A Woman Under the Influence'' (1974) and ''Opening Night'' (1977) which are already available on cassette. (Not rated; Fox Lorber/Orion Home Video)