Close Up

3 - 18 March 2017: Close-Up on Shirley Clarke


"Born into both privilege and neglect in New York City, Shirley Clarke never seemed comfortable with society’s expectations and attempted to break free from convention at an early age. Ambitious and intelligent, yet unable to conform to standard education, she initially found her voice through dance. Studying under Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey and Anna Sokolow, Clarke would take all of the dance classes a college had to offer and then move on. At the end of her options, she finally escaped from the burdensome demands of her parents by marrying supportive friend and lithographer/publisher Bert Clarke. The marriage provided Clarke with the independence and freedom to do what she wanted and eventually decided her fate; she received a 16mm Bolex camera as a wedding present.

Responding to the choreography, movement and rhythm inherent in the medium, Clarke’s relationship to film began as an extension of her dance. Making her first film, A Dance in the Sun, unaware of Maya Deren’s film work with dance and spatio-temporal cutting, she transported a dancer on stage back and forth through time and space, landing him back to unceremonious reality as the credits roll. The essential elements of this first effort would reverberate throughout her work and approach to life. As she reflected in a later interview, "Everything I’ve done is based on the duality of fantasy and reality." Taken in by the expressive beauty of motion and the transcendent powers of art, she also accepted and investigated film’s manipulative and exploitive aspects. Clarke harnessed the power of cinema to create a parallel dimension, while grounding the journey by hiding her cinematic tactics in plain sight.

Clarke also positioned herself as a formative organizing force in the fertile, intimate, interdisciplinary revolution that was the New American Cinema scene in Fifties and Sixties New York. She studied film at City College of New York programs helmed by Hans Richter, joined the Independent Filmmakers Association, attended Cinema 16 screenings and eventually founded the New American Cinema Group with fellow enthusiastic film zealot Jonas Mekas – eventually playing a vital role in setting up Film-Makers Coop with Mekas." – Brittany Gravely

Programme 1: Early Shorts

A Moment in Love, 1956, 10 min, Colour, Digital
A Scary Time, 1960, 16 min, B/W, Digital
Butterfly, 1967, 4 min, Colour, Digital
Bridges-Go-Round (Jazz Score by Teo Macero), 1958, 3’50 min, Colour, Digital
Dance in the Sun, 1953, 7 min, B/W, DigitalIn Paris Parks, 1954,13 min, Colour, Digital
Bullfight, 1955, 9 min, Colour, Digital
Bridges-Go-Round (Electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron), 1958, 3’50 min, Digital
Television Interview: Shirley Clarke in Minneapolis, 1956, 3 min, B/W, Digital

Drawing on her background as a dancer, Shirley Clarke created short films that celebrated the "dance of life."  From the beautifully choreographed portrait of New York City's bridges in Bridges-Go-Round to collaborations with legendary choreographer Anna Sokolow in Bullfight and A Moment in Love, this programme of newly restored films commemorates this iconic American filmmaker. read more

Programme 2: The Connection

The Connection, 1961, 103 min, B/W, Digital

Jack Gelber’s off-Broadway play performed by New York’s infamously bohemian company, the Living Theatre, was a beat sensation with its jagged and broken fourth wall. The unconventional play-within-a-play claimed to feature actual drug addicts and jazz musicians playing themselves as they wait for their dealer to arrive while the production’s director and screenwriter comment and bicker off-stage. Using practically the same mixed-race cast, Clarke recreated the seedy unpredictability of the experience within the very new device of cinema verité: a white, bourgeois hipster director attempts to make a document of reality by prodding the antsy junkies into outrageous behaviour and pithy insights. read more

Programme 3: Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World


Skyscraper, 1959, 20 min, B/W & Colour, Digital
Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World, 1963, 52 min, B/W, Digital

By the time Clarke made a biopic on Robert Frost for public television, he was a long-celebrated American institution. Though featuring him accepting the Congressional Gold Medal from President Kennedy at the White House, Clarke lingers on the 88-year-old poet busily ambling about his house and property in Vermont. read more

Programme 4: Portrait of Jason

Portrait of Jason, 1967, 105 min, B/W, Digital

Playing the role of Jason Holliday on film and in life, Aaron Payne presents himself to Shirley Clarke and her crew doing what he wants to be doing: performing. As a black, gay hustler with deferred dreams, Jason represents multiple strata of marginalization, and Clarke offers this outsider persona feature-length center stage. Jason’s entertaining, anecdotal, emotional roller coaster ride reveals as much about the shadow side of American society as it is its flamboyant spokesperson. read more

Programme 5: Ornette: Made in America

Ornette: Made in America, 1984, 77 min, Colour & B/W, Digital

Shirley Clarke’s free-associating, layered approach to her portrait of the legendary free jazz icon mischievously reflects the multidimensional fabric of Ornette Coleman’s inventive, radical approach to jazz. Clarke’s biography dreamily sketches out the transcendental orbit Coleman has always followed while tenderly tethered to his humble beginnings in a Fort Worth ghetto. read more

Programme 6: Late Shorts

24 Frames per Second, 1977, 4 min, Colour, Digital
Four Journeys into Mystic Time, 1979, 60 min, Colour, Digital
Savage/love, 1981, 26 min, Colour, Digital
Tongues, 1982, 20 min, Colour, Digital

A selection of Clarke's pioneering and influential work with video, from the 1970s and 1980s.With the new medium of video still in its infancy, Clarke immediately recognised and began to explore its progressive possibilities. Based in the penthouse of the infamous Hotel Chelsea, she formed the TeePee Video Space Troupe collective of visual artists, and developed a powerful fusion of live performance and video. Highlights include Tongues and Savage/Love, Clarke’s trailblazing collaborations with actor/director Joseph Chaikin and acclaimed playwright/actor Sam Shepard. read more

Programme 7: Brussels Film Loops

Brussels Film Loops/Gestures/World Kitchen, 1957, 60 min, Colour & B/W, Digital

Clarke’s initial dance films led to a series of kinetic, poetic loops for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Using a visual sort of jazz as her structure, she weaves a mix of dazzling optical effects with clever contextualizing – never merely presenting her subject, but interjecting a point of view and complicating a straight-forward reading. read more

This retrospective is generously supported by Milestone Films: