City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

EIFF Biography of Shirley Clarke

Shirley Clarke Portrait, 1970

The Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2008 spotlights work of the relatively unknown Shirley Clarke. Another retrospective will showcase the films of French actress Jeanne Moreau.

About Shirley Clarke

A former dancer, choreographer and head of the National Dance Association, Shirley Clarke began making short films in 1953 with the seven-minute "Dance in the Sun". She then went on to make a series of short films about dance, including "In Paris Parks" (1954) and "Bullfight" (1955).

By the time she made "A Moment in Love" (1957), Clarke had begun to explore movement as a means of communicating story. "Skyscraper" (1959) traced the construction of a building, used colour and black-and-white shots, and was made in collaboration with Willard Van Dyke and Irving Jacoby.

The film, which Clarke characterised as "a musical comedy about the building of a skyscraper", won several festival prizes and earned a 1959 Oscar® nomination for Best Live Action Short Subject.

After developing a searing cinema verité style in her experimental shorts and documentaries, Clarke graduated to features with "The Connection" (1960), based on Jack Gelber's play about junkies awaiting their dealer, and the extraordinary "Portrait of Jason" (1967), an interview with a black male hustler.

Clarke directed the Oscar®-winning documentary short "Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel With the World" (1963), which had been commissioned by President John F Kennedy. While alienating her from Hollywood, Clarke's provocative subject matter made her a major influence on American underground film culture. She was a co-founder with Jonas Mekas (an EIFF guest in 2002) of New York's Filmmakers’ Cooperative in 1962. In Agnes Varda's "Lion's Love" (1969), she appropriately played 'Shirley Clarke', a character trying to interest a producer in a film project.

While teaching at UCLA from 1975 to 1983, Clarke completed what would be her last film, "Ornette: Made in America" (1985). Begun in 1968 and utilizing film and video, it was a documentary portrait of jazz musician Ornette Coleman.

Clarke died in 1997 after suffering a stroke.