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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Milestone Films Posters Shirley Clarke’s THE CONNECTION















































The Connection opens May 4 at the IFC Center. Writes Milestone Films, “Set to the propulsive music of jazz greats Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean (who appear in the film), THE CONNECTION is one of the most vital and fascinating of all American independent films. Created by a woman director working outside the Hollywood tradition, the film fearlessly shattered stereotypes and even questioned the filmmaking process itself. Yet for many years, it was virtually unseen.

“A dynamic member of the postwar independent film movement, Clarke was one of the first filmmakers — and the only woman — to sign the New American Cinema manifesto in 1961. For her debut feature, she decided to take on a controversial off-Broadway play by Jack Gelber. “The Connection” was a complicated and challenging theater piece — a play within a play, within a jazz session. It featured a group of heroin addicts (some of them musicians) waiting around in a grungy New York loft for their drug connection to arrive. Meanwhile, a theatrical producer and writer intent on putting on an “authentic” play, are hanging out with and studying the strung-out junkies. Throughout the play, brilliant Beat dialogue alternated with cool jazz.

“Clarke changed the character of the playwright into a preppy young filmmaker out to make a name for himself by documenting the “scene.” Clarke, who was friends with many of the new cinéma vérité documentarians, added a level of humor by satirizing the earnestness and professed purity of that genre. Keeping the play’s one-set location (re-created in grungy and brilliant detail by future five-time Oscar®-nominated art director Albert Brenner), Clarke set her camera free to swirl, swoop and move to the rhythms of the film’s cool jazz score. When it premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1961, the edgy, exciting and kinetic film was acclaimed a masterpiece.

“Although Clarke had fully embraced the avant-garde nature of Gelber’s play, she was unprepared for the furor her film version would raise. In Hollywood films, addicts were usually “good men gone bad” or crazed “dope fiends.” In contrast, the junkies in THE CONNECTION are vulgar, funny, erudite, talented and unapologetic. They speak about heroin with enthusiasm, and refer to it as “shit.” And it was this four-letter word that helped put the film on the censors’ radar.

“Cinephiles encountering UCLA Film & Television Archive’s sparkling restoration will be astonished by the image and sound quality. Arthur Ornitz’s black-and-white cinematography lushly glows and the great jazz of pianist Redd and saxophone legend McLean grooves, making THE CONNECTION’s rediscovery one of the cinema events of the year!

“THE CONNECTION is the first release in Milestone’s ambitious four-years-in-the-making PROJECT SHIRLEY — to acquire and bring out the films of Shirley Clarke. Although there are more than 100 monographs, books and DVDs devoted to the works of contemporaries like John Cassavetes, Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol; there is not one entirely dedicated to the life or works of Clarke. Milestone has acquired the rights to four of Clarke’s features and more than a dozen of her short films and will be working with the archives to bring out restored versions over the course of the next year. Next on the list, ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA, will be premiering this August at the IFC Center.”

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas