CCNY To Screen Two Films by Pioneering Director Shirley Clarke

Shirley Clarke


“The Connection” and “Ornette: Made in America,” both recently restored, to be shown Friday, February 22

Director Shirley Clarke, a founder of the New American Cinema movement of the early 1960s, has recently begun to get long overdue recognition. Last year, Milestone Films, an independent film distribution company, acquired a collection of Ms. Clarke’s feature and short films, and has been restoring them for rerelease. City College will honor its former student, who studied with the legendary Hans Richter, by showing two of the most important films in that collection, at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, February 22, in Shepard Hall Room 95 on the CCNY campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Ms. Clarke’s first feature film, “The Connection,” (1962) will be shown at 4 p.m. It is based on a play performed by the Living Theater in which heroin-addicted jazz musicians, holed up in a one-room apartment, await the arrival of their drug supplier. The result is a fascinating pseudo-documentary that parodies cinema verité filmmaking; it can be seen as a classic underground film that manages to satirize the underground.

At 7 p.m., Clarke’s last feature film, “Ornette: Made in America” (1985), will be screened. In this film, she captures the spirit and rhythms of jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman over three decades. Considered by many to be the crowning achievement of Shirley Clarke’s innovative body of work, it riffs on Coleman’s jazz artistry to create its parallel through the art of film. Film critic/historian J. Hoberman will introduce the screening.

A public reception between the films will be held at 6 p.m. in Shepard Hall Room 290.

A dancer/choreographer before she turned to filmmaking while in her mid 30s, Shirley Clarke studied with Mr. Richter at CCNY’s Institute for Film Techniques, the first U.S. film school, in 1954 and 1955. Her early short films drew from abstract expressionism, jazz and modern dance. She soon became part of the downtown independent film scene that included avant-garde pioneers Maya Deren and Jonas Mekas. Later her circle would include such leading lights of the independent film world as Frederick Wiseman, John Cassevetes, and Agnes Varda.

The event is sponsored by the following City College departments and programs: the Documentary Forum; the Rifkind Center for the Humanities; the music department; the media and communication arts department’s cinema studies program; the women’s studies program, and the black studies program of CCNY. The Black Documentary Collective is co-host for the event.

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