Friday, October 26, 2012

Two by Shirley Clarke at the Pacific Cinematheque: jazz, heroin, and self-reflexive cinema, plus the option of voluntary castration

Over the next few days, the Cinematheque will be housing screenings of films by Shirley Clarke: The Connection and Ornette: Made in America. The Connection is a very interesting piece of self-reflexive cinema in which a filmmaker and his assistant attempt to document the lives of a group of jazz musicians and junkies waiting in a Greenwich Village loft for their dealer to show up. The addicts - amongst whom are noted figures like Jackie McLean and Freddie Redd, tho' they don't get much dialogue - argue amongst themselves, play jazz, and lecture the director of the film-to-be about his presumption that he can capture anything of the experience of being a junkie while staying safely on the other side of the camera; somehow, these scenes were what my mind harkened back to when watching Frank "Poncho" Sampedro lecturing Jim Jarmusch about presuming to "document" the experience of being in Crazy Horse, during Year of the Horse. There are some great performances - including Warren Finnerty (later to appear in Cool Hand Luke, Cockfigher, and the much grittier heroin-themed film The Panic in Needle Park) and the ever-delightful, ubiquitous Roscoe Lee Browne (RIP; in addition to The Connection, I'm fondest of his appearance in the adaptation of Graham Greene's The Comedians, his work on the TV series Soap, and his role as narrator in Gregg Araki's wonderful pot comedy Smiley Face - one of Browne's very last projects). There's also cool music, gritty black and white cinematography, and probably my favourite appearance of a cockroach in a film (excepting Bug!). Not so sure about the accuracy of its depiction of heroin use - the film is from 1962, and somewhat dated in its language and attitudes - but it will please both jazz fans and, especially, people who like films that ask questions about films. Highly recommended; trailer here.
Also very interesting-sounding is Ornette: Made in America, Clarke's documentary about the free jazz/ harmolodics pioneer, which features appearances by R. Buckminster Fuller and William S. Burroughs (Cronenberg's film adaptation of Naked Lunch uses some of Ornette's soloing, embodied within Howard Shore compositions; Coleman can be seen playing some of this live on Youtube). Brion Gysin and the Master Musicians of Jajouka, with whom Ornette also recorded, may also be in the film, though as I say, I've yet to see the film, so I'm quite sure what's in it; apparently one sequence deals with Coleman's request to be castrated, so he could dispense with sexual feelings and focus on music, though I am unclear as to whether this operation was ever actually carried out. While I don't know the film (or much of Coleman's bio), I'm very, very fond of Ornette's early recordings with Don Cherry; of his harmolodics stuff, Body Meta is my favourite. Note: photo of Ornette playing at the Cellar in Vancouver in the 1950's, here.

NOTE: There was an error in the Cinematheque's listings for the 31st, and perhaps elsewhere. Please see here for the correct showtimes for Hallowe'en: there is no 5:10 screening of The Connection

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