Shirley Clarke Henry Breitrose - Essay

Henry Breitrose

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Shirley Clarke was originally a dancer. Before making films she took the precaution of learning a great deal about film technique; but she remains an instinctual film-maker, whose feeling for movement generally seems to have carried over into her feeling for the camera.

The theme of Bridges-Go-Round—as far as words can describe it—is the bridges that link Manhattan to Brooklyn, queens, the Bronx, and the New Jersey shore. In actuality, the bridges become plastic materials for a highly abstract subjective study in structures and movements. The images were printed "bi-packed"—running sandwiched together through the printer—in order to give them equal intensity. They are manipulated in a complex but extremely arresting way: the great steel girders, the taut cables, the towers and railings and roadways and abutments seem almost to dance. An exciting sense of color works with Mrs. Clarke's lively rhythmic sense….

On its simplest level Skyscraper is the chronicle of a building, 666 Fifth Avenue, from the time its site is cleared … to its ultimate employment as a forty-odd-floor stack of offices. But the film is also a comment on the contrast between the nobility and quietly unconscious heroism of the actual construction workers and the shallow, highly polished routinism for which their labor provides a home. (p. 57)

As in Bridges, there is an astonishing lyric quality, even when dealing with mechanical processes. Not only are the shots edited dynamically … but the changes in tempo, the pauses, accelerations, retards, and even visual glissandos—such as a shot looking up an elevator shaft as the elevator ascends—work with a remarkably complex correctness and grace. (p. 58)

Henry Breitrose, "Films of Shirley Clarke," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1960 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XIII, No. 4, Summer, 1960, pp. 57-8.