Shirley Clarke Moves from Dancing to Film

Shirley Clarke Moves from Dancing to Film

Shirley Clarke’s early films were multimedia experiments that explored how dance movements worked in dialogue with camera movements and edits. Her first short film—Dance in the Sun, a collaboration with choreographer and dancer Daniel Nagrin—effortlessly melded the expressive worlds of cinema and dance. “She would have a gesture that Daniel was making with his arms onstage in the rehearsal hall in New York,” her daughter Wendy Clarke said, “and there would be a cut to the completion of that gesture that was shot on the beach. When she got into film, she was a really good networker, and people came over all the time. Jonas Mekas and other people came over for dinner and they would all show each other the films that they were working on.” Mekas and Clarke were classmates in 1950 at City College of New York, where she studied film with Dadaist Hans Richter. Mekas and Clarke stayed in touch and eventually formed the New American Cinema Group in 1960, along with other likeminded filmmakers, as well as the Film-Makers’ Cooperative. This group advocated for a low-budget, more personal and auteurist approach to cinema; their manifesto stated: “We don’t want false, polished, slick films—we prefer them rough, unpolished but alive.”

From Chapter 2 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Film-Makers’ Cooperative
414 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10016