The Cool World

Shirley Clarke's The Cool World is the story of a black adolescent, Duke, who longs to lead his gang, the Royal Pythons. The pursuit of a gun takes him on a downward trajectory from stealing, selling drugs, and gang fighting to arrest. Clarke and Carl Lee, who collaborated on the film, selected the cast from students at Harlem junior high schools. Although based on a literary source, much of the film was improvised. “The most famous woman director in American cinema today is Shirley Clarke. She began her career as a dancer, and was interested chiefly in dance films and choreographic possibilities of camera imagery. . . . Her most recent feature, The Cool World is the best film ever made about American Negro life in Harlem, and almost prophetic in its implications” (Albert Johnson, SFIFF 1966).

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