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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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“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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