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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 color and black-and-white shots and was made in collaboration with Willard Van Dyke and Irving Jacoby. The film, which Clarke characterized 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. earned an Oscar nomination.
After developing a searing cinema verite style in her experimental shorts and documentaries, she graduated to features with "The Connection" (1960), based on Jack Gelber's play, about heroin junkies being filmed by a documentarian and "Portrait of Jason" (1967), an interview with a black male hustler. Clarke helmed 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. (With Jonas Mekas she co-founded New York's Filmmaker's 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 was completing 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 and his son Denardo. Clarke died in 1997 after suffering a stroke.
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