“There’s a dissatisfaction with merely going to the movies,” proclaims Shirley Clarke in Noël Burch and Andre S. Labarthe’s documentary Rome Burns: A Portrait of Shirley Clarke (1970). Throughout, she is never without two things: a cigarette between her lips, and a sincere humility. Seated on the floor of a Parisian apartment with friends and colleagues (including Jacques Rivette and Yoko Ono), the New York-native Clarke opens up about her revolutionary ideas about cinema, as well as her own misgivings about her earlier works. The three features she had shot at that point—The Connection (1962), The Cool World (1964), and Portrait of Jason (1967)—wrenched burgeoning cinema verite trends in new, groundbreaking directions. But for every liberating frame that passed through her camera, Clarke saw more work that needed to be done. To her, the then-current relationship between the audience and the movie was antiquated: “I don’t want them separated by the screen anymore.” In fusing experimental, documentary, and narrative film techniques, Clarke was a significant force in creating “modern” cinema in the 1960s.
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.