February 2012, arsenal cinema

Shirley Clarke


During the Forum we are presenting two films which have been restored by Milestones. They will be screened again as part of the Arsenal program. Shirley Clarke, a pioneer of independent American cinema, began her career as a dancer and turned to filmmaking in the 1950s. In 1962, she founded the New Yorker Film-makers' Cooperative with Jonas Mekas and others.

"Whatever the idea is, it's never something you can just tell to another person and be sure that they know what you mean, so... just play the music.” That’s how Ornette Coleman put it, and that's how Shirley Clarke shot Ornette. Made in America, her portrait of Coleman. It begins with his symphony “Skies of America" and ends with applause. In between, the former dancer engages with music, this free jazz pioneer’s eventful life and its images. She also explores questions of documentary filmmaking in the process, placing her talking-heads within a frame of TV screens and staging a childhood marked by discrimination and even a moon landing. The inventor of "Harmolodics", who would like to have been an architect or a neuroscientist, had a kindred spirit in Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome. Such a dome can also be found at the "Caravan of Dreams", a performing arts centre in Coleman's hometown of Fort Worth, Texas which takes its name from the Arabian Nights. It was inaugurated in 1983 with a performance by Coleman and his Prime Time Band, with Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs in attendance. From here, the journey moves on to Berkeley, Italy, Morocco and Nigeria.  

THE CONNECTION (USA 1961, 28.2.)
While the Living Theater's production of Jack Gelber's play made the audience squirm, Shirley Clarke's film version of The Connection practically put them on trial, at least according to reports following the premiere. The film shows a group of drug-addict musicians waiting for their "connection" in a New York apartment while a two-man documentary team films the proceedings. The drug dealer arrives in the company of a female street preacher. By the time the filmmaker, whose bible is Kracauer's "Theory of Film", demands that the dealer stop looking at him and reaches for his camera as if it were a weapon, the power relations have shifted irrevocably. The film team and the protagonists grapple with questions of ethics and society as well as the relationship between reality and fiction in a dizzying choreography of different states: clear-headedness, intoxication, and withdrawal. The camera—sometimes hand-held, sometimes stationary – becomes the main character, appearing to possess not just a body and mind but a conscience as well.
THE CONNECTION dissects cinema itself and has entered into the annals of film history as both a milestone of cinema vérité and a jazz musical.

Both films are distributed by Arsenal.