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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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DEADLINE: How does a visualist feel about people watching your films on a phone or VOD?
REFN: It depends on what kind of movie you make. We had great success with Only God Forgives on multiple platforms in the U.S. Young people will decide how they see it, when they want to see it. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. That’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re at the most exciting time since the invention of the wheel, in terms of creativity because distribution and accessibility have changed everything. A camera is still a camera whether it’s digital or not; there’s still sound; an actor is an actor. Ninety-nine percent of what you do is going to be seen on a smart phone – I know this is the greatest thing ever made because it allows people to choose, watching what you do on this format or go into a theater and see it on a screen. That means more people than ever will see what I do, which is personally satisfying in terms of vanity. But you have to be able to adapt, to accept things in different order and length than we’re used to. We are in a very, very exciting time.
~ Nic Refn to Jen Yamato

DEADLINE: You mention Tarantino, who with Christopher Nolan and a few other giants, saved film stock from extinction. To him, showing a digital film in a theater is the equivalent of watching TV in public. Make an argument for why digital is a good film making canvas.
REFN: Costwise, it’s a very effective way for young people to start making movies. You can make your movie on an iPhone. It’s wonderful seeing how my own children use technology to enhance creativity. For me it’s a wonderful canvas. Sure, I love grain in film. I love celluloid. But I also like creativity. I like crayons, I like pencils, I like paint. It’s all relative. Technology is more inclusive. A hundred years ago when film was invented, it was an elitist club. Very few people got to make it, very few people controlled it and very few people owned it. A hundred years later, storytelling through images is everyone’s domain. It’s ultimate capitalism. There are no rules, and no barriers and no Hays Code. Where does this go in another hundred years? I don’t know but I would love to see it.
~ Nic Refn To Jen Yamato