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Thursday, August 15, 2013

We Love You, Shirley!

by Nathan Gelgud

They don’t come cooler than Cool World director Shirley Clarke. A pioneer in sixties independent movies, an innovator of the avant-garde, and key member of filmmaking collectives like Videofreex, Clarke is one of the best things to ever happen in underground American movies, up there with Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas.

BAM is a huge fan of Clarke, having given her an overdue retrospective in 2005 that showed not only her key works like The Cool World and The Connection, but an undeservedly under-discussed Agnès Varda movie in which she co-starred called Lions Love from 1969. Clarke shared the screen with our favorite Andy Warhol superstar Viva in that movie, but it was Clarke’s honest performance that made us such big fans.

There was an important Clarke movie missing from that series, and today, BAM makes things right, giving her 1967 masterwork Portrait of Jason a two-day run as part of our mammoth series, A Time for Burning: Cinema of the Civil Rights Movement.

Shirley Clarke didn’t invent American independent cinema, but around here our hearts belong as much to her as Maya Deren or John Cassavetes. Today, we found this interview on-line from 1985 that we highly recommend.

Here are some choice bits.

On her relationship with the establishment:
"I was embarrassed for years to let anyone know I had won an Academy Award for The Connection. That wasn't really a prize I wanted to win. I was happy to say that The Connection got a prize at Cannes. I was happy to say that The Cool World was the first independent film to play in Venice."

On being a so-called woman filmmaker:
"I prefer to be in the anthologies of filmmakers: between Rene Claire and Rene Clemont is Shirley Clarke. What I'm saying by that is that I want to be identified with the body of filmmakers, not just women."

On meeting with Roger Corman, the low-budget producer who launched many Hollywood careers, after she had already made plenty of movies:
"And he said to me, 'Maybe we really shouldn't be working with each other. I'm sorry, but I hoped I could do for you what I had done for Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich.' And he listed a whole bunch of filmmakers that are 10 years younger than I am, all these men who did their first movies with him. And I realized that he didn't have any idea who the fuck I was."

On the necessity of men in the evolution of the species:
"Stash a whole bunch of sperm somewhere and go on for the next fifteen hundred years."

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