A month later, the highest court in the state reversed the Regents' decision, but the delay and the damage done by reviews ensured dismal returns. According to Milestone, The Connection still has not recouped its $167,000 budget.

During this time, Clarke co-founded the self-described "self-help organization" Film-Makers' Cooperative with Mekas. Clarke was the only woman to sign the co-op's September 1962 "Statement for a New American Cinema," which planted a flag for film as a personal creative expression, argued for the "ethical and esthetic" necessity of low budgets, and railed against the tyranny of the established systems of financing, distribution, exhibition, censorship, and what they called the "Product Film."

Clarke went on to win the Documentary Feature Oscar for Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel With the World in 1963, but she would remain a conflicted outsider to the industry, even after moving to Los Angeles in the mid '70s. "People ask me why I haven't made Hollywood films," Clarke said during a seminar at the American Film Institute in 1975. "I reply: 'If I were a man, I might have tried to be Orson Welles. But as a woman and an artist, it's impossible. . . . They don't take us seriously."

Playing junkie on set
Milestone Films
Playing junkie on set

She also might not have taken herself seriously enough. "I never felt that I was interesting," Clarke said at the seminar. "So I used the 'junkie' or the 'black man' to express my feelings of alienation. Only now I can admit it. The women's movement made me realize how brainwashed I had been; that because I was a 'female' filmmaker, my work was worthless, significant only to myself. But that has changed, and a female is the protagonist in my next film—a combination of Hitchcock and the Marx Brothers, which can be made for under $400,000."

That incredible-sounding hybrid unfortunately didn't come to pass. Between 1975 and her death in 1997, Clarke experimented with video, but she directed only one other film feature, the Ornette Coleman documentary Ornette: Made in America—which, also restored by Lipman, is the next target of Project Shirley.

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Regina Nunley
Regina Nunley

Fazul - I have video of you saying much the same about Ms. Clarke..OK you gotta campaign for her film to come to LA - does sound pretty cool - Has to be phenomenal due to the fever with which you mentioned it at Echo Park film center last month...I'll get you that video soon..

Do you know you write EXACTLY like you talk??

Fazulito Reet
Fazulito Reet

Thank you for that lucid commentary on the brilliant and under-appreciated Shirley Clarke and her faux-documentary feature, "The Connection.". I first became aware of "The Connection" as a jazz music album, as I was (and still am) a passionate fan of alto saxophonist Jackie McLean (who is prominently featured in the film and soundtrack).I later saw the film in the late 1970's and was astounded... the editing particularly stands out. I'm jealous that a restored print of the film is being screened in New York... when is it coming to Los Angeles???

On a personal note, I was an MFA student at the UCLA film school in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and was Shirley Clarke's teaching assistant in the color TV studio @ UCLA film school from 1982 to 1984, during which Shirley and I got to know one another rather well. I can state with firmness that Shirley Clarke was exceptionally talented. Using the concept of Howard Gardner's "multiple intelligences," I would say that Shirley Clarke had a very high level of Social Intelligence (she really, really knew how to schmooze), a high level of Visual Intelligence (watch "The Cool World" or, yes, "The Connection") and most of all, Spatial Intelligence. Her ability to take in/consider image, sound and plot elements and then edit them (sometimes in real time!) was ASTOUNDING.

Thanks, again, for the thoughtful commentary.

Eugene Timiraos / Fazulito Reet


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