Visual-Jazz-1 Visual-Jazz-2

Shirley Clarke is a goddamn genius. I hope people compare me with her someday. Shirley and [Lionel] Rogosin are really interested in their subjects, in finding out about what they think and feel
–John Cassavetes

In 1958 the later Oscar awarded avant-garde filmmaker Shirley Clarke was commissioned to create 25 short films to be presented at the Brussels EXPO and that should document America as a “society in motion”. The result was a milestone in short-film history. The films were silent and non-linear montages, edited in Clarke’s “visual jazz” style, responding to the choreography, movement and rhythm inherent in the medium.

Clarke brought that drive toward movement into her films to visualize “motion”, that was in the late

1950s an apt term to describe American culture. Expressionists brought movement to painting, Beats made their poetry “bop” jazz had the world grooving, and Clarke brought that same drive toward movement into her films. Clarke had an background in modern dance and had shot in 1954 one of her earliest films “Paris Parks” with Martha Graham where she found a way to use editing in order to create movement.

She weaves a mix of dazzling optical effects with clever contextualizing—never merely presenting her subject, but interjecting a point of view and complicating a straight-forward reading.

Good examples are:

Shirley Clarke “Nite Lights” USA 1958  

Shows various types of neon and electric lights in U.S. cities.

Shirley Clarke “Gas Stop”, America 1958   

Men drive automobiles along highways and have them serviced at gas stations. A car is lubricated and washed. The edit of this sequence shows what is nowadays the standard TV-Commercial picture language.

Shirley Clarke “Bridges” USA 1958

Shows a montage of railway and highway bridges in various parts of the U.S.