One of the truly unique and distinctive voices in independent cinema, from the early 50’s
until the mid-80’s, Shirley Clarke definitely followed her own path.
Coming from a
wealthy New York family background, Clarke, who originally wanted to be a dancer
and choreographer, found her true
calling as a filmmaker when she switched to filmmaking in the early 1950’s, when
she began to make documentaries and experimental films.
the 1980’s, she began to experiment with the possibilities of video, and even
crated her own dance troupe to make a series of experimental dance videos, and continued making films while teaching film and video at UCLA from 1975, until she
left the University in 1985.
the time of her death in 1997, she had been marginalized and forgotten for the
most part, interest in the filmmaker and her work reemerged in recent, as
her films have been screened across the country and rediscovered, with the
restoration her pioneering 1967 documentary “Portrait of Jason,” now
available on DVD.
But Clarke only
made two narrative films during her career – the 1961 film “The Connection,” based
a on a stage play, dealing with the underworld of drug addicts; and the 1963 the
semi-documentary narrative film, “The Cool World,” which deals with a street gang
in Harlem called the Royal Pythons, and is one of best examples ever made of American
The film was
shot on actual locations and the streets of Harlem, and used a combination of
real gang members with professional actors, including Clarence Williams III, Antonio Fargas, Carl Lee (who was Clarke’s
partner for a period of time and co-wrote the screenplay), and Gloria Foster.
The film was
based on a novel by Warren Miller, which was also adapted into a N.Y stage play, starring, among others, James Earl Jones.
With a raw intensity, the film chronicles a unique time in New York City’s urban racial history.
But it has been rarely screened for decades, and has never been available on
any kind of video format here in the U.S.
Thursday, Dec. 11, starting at 7PM, at the Black Cinema House in Chicago, a rare
16 MM print of the film will be screened for the first time in years.
Cinema House is located in their spacious new location on 7200 S. Kimbark. Attendance is free but you must RSVP HERE.
Below is a
brief clip from the film (though not in great quality and with French subtitles):