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 Cinema e pensamento | On cinema and thought                                                                              @ André Dias

As filmagens de «The cool world» | Shooting «The cool world»

«– How did you find the novel about Harlem youth gangs for your next film, The Cool World?
SHIRLEY CLARKE: The novel was popular in those days. Fred Wiseman, who had put about $3,000 into The Connection, got hooked into filmmaking. He had read the novel. He came to me, asked if I would be interested in making a film, and I said yes. He thought he could make a deal to pick up The Cool World. We went to visit Warren Miller, the author, and he was a wonderful man. He had seen my work. He liked it. But he himself did not participate in the making of the film. He was not even going to read my script. When the film was finished, he would come and see it.
I would not have been able to make The Cool World had I not been living with Carl Lee at that time. [A Harlem-born black actor, Lee had previously been in the stage and film versions of The Connection.] It took Carl three months of going up to Harlem all the time, gathering kids, and bringing them down for us to interview. For awhile, we really thought we weren't going to be able to cast the film because we were getting all the “good” kids in school, and they weren’t giving us believable readings. When I finally persuaded Carl to try to get to the gangs and bring some of those kids downtown, most of them couldn’t read scripts. What we would do was improvise with them. It was very exciting because the “real” kids started to improvise the script we had written right back to us. That’s when I knew our script was ok. From then on we got to work, and my relationship with the kids was wonderful.
I told Fred that I really thought we had to shoot the film in the street and that it could be tough. But if we could get a mixed crew, a few real supporters, and I was lucky enough, we might be able for the first time to make a film about Harlem in Harlem. This wonderful woman, Madeleine Anderson, was helping Ricky Leacock, who was doing a number of films that dealt with black people. He was also teaching black people to become cameramen. He had a volunteer class, and many of them became the major black cameramen in the city for a long time. Madeleine was this amazing lady who wanted to make a movie herself and subsequently made a film for WNET and the Children’s Workshop. She agreed not only to be my assistant but to stay with me through the whole film. Eventually she became my assistant editor. She would go out on the street, and it was her job to explain to the people in the street who were upset by the filming why we were doing the movie and what it was all about. For the most part, that cooled the street.
– Tough job.

SC: Very tough. She did it wonderfully. But there were times when it didn’t work. Baird Bryant, who was the white cameraman (the other cameraman, Leroy Lucas, was black), myself, and the two black kids were on 125th St. right next to a black nationalist bookstore. The owner of the store thought the film was anti-Harlem, and so he started chasing us down the street. Then there were times when crowds collected that were not always friendly. But, in general, we had enough black people on the crew and with Madeleine going around, we were able to work very successfully in the real streets of Harlem.
The look of The Cool World is not only authentic but very beautiful and moving since you get a chance to see in a documentary style the real life the children live in ghettos like Harlem. Up until then, no one had shot in Harlem. I think they didn’t do it because they thought it was dangerous. They didn’t even think it was necessary. Who would be interested? If that hadn’t happened, my film would not have been as successful as it was.
It finally took two years to make that film, and by the end of it we were $50,000 in debt, which I’m still paying off. I did something that I do all the time. I make terrible financial deals because my interests are basically making the film, and it never occurs to me that I’m going to lose money for other people and that I’m always going to feel very bad about that.
The only film that I don’t have any resentments about is Portrait of Jason because I put up the original money myself which turned out to be a good investment since it only cost $10,000. I was given the film stock by NBC. I gave Jason some money, and I made a deal with him that any money I got from the film, half would go to him. To this day, he still gets bits of money. But I don’t really know if there are any profits or if I ever got my original money back. But I sure am glad I made the film! »

Lauren Rabinovitz, «Choreography of cinema. An interview with Shirley Clarke» [pdf],
AfterImage, December 1983, p. 10.

Numa bela e conhecida carta, a justificar a recusa de um prémio do New York Film Critics Circle, Godard lamentava não ter conseguido “compeli[-los] a não esquecer Shirley Clarke”. Por sua vez, neste excerto de entrevista, Shirley Clarke menciona o aqui produtor Frederic Wiseman (importante documentarista e, mais que isso, sem dúvida um dos maiores cineastas da segunda metade do séc. XX), que se encontra ainda em actividade como realizador e continua a distribuir este filme.
No ano passado em Serpa, Wiseman deu a entender (apesar da delicadeza com que não se pronunciou quando directamente interrogado), não apreciar particularmente o filme nem as pessoas que o fizeram (repetindo algo semelhante ao que terá dito algures numa entrevista que agora não encontro). De memória, creio que se terá expresso mais ou menos assim, quando procurava contextualizar o seu começo no cinema: “se aquelas pessoas conseguiam fazer um filme, então também eu”.
Do ponto de vista inocente, ou talvez demasiado sensível, de um espectador que encontra uma clara afinidade, mesmo que não estilística, entre este belíssimo filme e a obra de Wiseman, estas afirmações podem parecer cruéis. Não escapam os autores, pelo contrário, à generalidade da estranheza das relações entre as pessoas.
Apesar de todas as condicionantes, tem sido possível ver entre nós The cool world na Cinemateca, bem como The connection (que esteve inclusive na verdadeira monção cinematográfica que foi O olhar de Ulisses no Porto 2001), e Ricardo Matos Cabo programou recentemente alguns filmes de (e sobre) Shirley Clarke na Culturgest no âmbito das suas Figuras da dança no cinema. No filme sobre ela, pudémos antever alguma da grandiosidade desse Retrato de Jason sem ressentimentos de que fala orgulhosa. Quando o poderemos, simplesmente, ver? Por vezes sinto que são os filmes menores que mais nos faltam.
In a beautiful and well-known letter, while justifying the refusal of a New York Film Critics Circle prize, Godard expresses his grief for not having been able “to compel [them] not to forget Shirley Clarke”. As for Shirley Clarke, in this interview excerpt she mentions the then producer Frederic Wiseman (an important documentarist, and more, without doubt one of the major filmmakers of the twentieth’ century second half), still in activity as a director and that keeps distributing this film.
Last year in Serpa (Portugal), Wiseman gave away (despite the politeness as he didn’t pronounce himself when directly asked) the fact he didn’t really appreciate neither the film nor the people who made it (repeating something similar of what he said in a interview that I can’t find right now). Quoting from memory, I believe he expressed himself more or less like this, while trying to put into context his cinema initiation: “if those people were capable of making a film, then so would I”.
From the innocent, or perhaps too sentimental, perspective of a spectator that finds a clear affinity, even if not a stylistic one, between this beautiful film and Wiseman’s work, these statements might seem cruel. Authors don’t escape, on the contrary, to the general awkwardness of relationships between people.
Despite all conditionings, it has been possible to see among us The cool world at Cinemateca (Lisbon, Portugal), as well as The connection (that was even included in the O olhar de Ulisses authentic cinematographic monsoon at Porto 2001), and Ricardo Matos Cabo recently programmed some of (and about) Shirley Clarke’s films at Culturgest (Lisbon) in the context of his Figures of dance in cinema. In the film about her, we could foresee some of the grandeur of this Portrait of Jason without resentments about which she so proudly speaks of. But when will we be able, quite simply, to see it? Sometimes I feel its the minor films we're really missing.

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