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The Cool World: Frederick Wiseman


By Allan Katz

Shirley Clarke, director of the film version of The Connection and several award-winning short subjects, is now casting for her next film, The Cool World. It is being produced by a Boston attorney and former teacher at Boston University Law School, Frederick Wiseman, who is currently on a grant to study sociology at Harvard.

Wiseman's interest in the law is largely sociological; he has been studying the relationship between psychiatry and the legal process, and is writing a book that explores case histories that demonstrate the law's inadequacy in assessing and dealing with the plea of insanity in criminal cases. It was the inadequacy of sociology that interested him in The Cool World. He felt that the Warren Miller novel from which the movie is taken, gave a far more realistic picture of the way in which the social structure of Harlem and its relationship with the outside world give rise to delinquency than any study of the problem he had seen. His primary concern in all three of his fields--the law, sociology, and movie-making--is that they should treat human problems as they are experienced by human beings. He feels that in all three fields too great a concern with traditional methods prevents one from recognizing and coping with problems as they exist.

His first association with film-making was as an investor in The Connection. Miss Clarke's first film was financed, as Broadway plays are, by a limited partnership arrangement; over two hundred investors put up sums ranging from fifty dollars to twenty-three thousand dollars. The principal advantage of this method of financing low-budget films is that it enables the producer to find investors who are interested in his particular project and who are willing to leave artistic control in the hands of the director.

In The Connection, Miss Clarke uses documentary techniques to explore the world of the junky in grimy, naturalistic detail. But the film, which was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival last summer, has excited European critics and film makers not because of its sensational subject matter, but because of its brilliant use of the camera as a character. The junkies know they are being photographed; the camera man is drawn into their drama. This is a revolutionary American film, the first to use the techniques discovered by Europe's "new wave." The producers of The Connection are currently fighting censorship by the New York State Board of Regents; ironically, in a film that deals graphically with such themes as dope addiction and homosexuality, the Board of Regents objects only to the use of the word "shit," which appears twenty-eight times (Variety counted). When Ephraim London, who represents the producers, wins his court fight (he says he will take his case to the Supreme Court if necessary), the Board of Regents will discover that it has been good for business.

The Cool World is another film which Hollywood could not handle. It will be shot this summer in Harlem and will explore juvenile delinquency in a way that people who found West Side Story a great movie might discover hard to take. Its mood is the oppressive apathy of Harlem; its hero is "Duke" Custis, a fourteen year old Negro boy, who has struck out to find his identity according to the only standards he has ever seen honored, as head of a street gang.

Miss Clarke's screenplay is an improvement on the Miller novel, just as The Connection was an improvement on the Gelber play. She has tightened the structure and cut out a mawkish ending.

Wiseman who is still seeking investors is confidant that the movie will go into production by the beginning of the summer. He is certain that, like The Connection, it has a potential audience outside the art movie houses. Miss Clarke's films may mark the beginning of an important trend in American film making. If a change is to be made, it will be done by people who finance and produce their movies outside of Hollywood.

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