Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ornette Coleman, Demon Marshall, Eugene Tatum, William S. Burroughs, Don Cherry, Denardo Coleman, Jayne Cortez, Brion Gysin, Charlie Haden
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Shirley Clarke
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 85
Date: 09/13/1985
IMDB

Ornette: Made in America (1985)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Change of the Century

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke (The Cool World) completed this documentary about jazz master Ornette Coleman -- who is still alive as of this writing -- in 1985. Now Milestone Films has given it a polish and a 2012 theatrical release, and it's a cause for celebration.

Coleman appeared on the jazz scene in the late 1950s, and like many other greats, no one quite knew what to make of him. He was compared with Charlie Parker, but it soon became apparent that he was no mere imitator. His albums The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Change of the Century (1959), and especially Free Jazz (1961) changed the musical landscape with their bizarre, beautiful inventiveness.

Clarke's film mostly takes place circa 1983, when Coleman returned to his hometown, Fort Worth, Texas, for a tribute and for a concert in which his band performed a new composition with the local orchestra. This amazing music provides the anchor for the film. From there, Clarke fills out the film with older footage, some artistic re-creations, and interviews. We learn about Coleman's fascination with Buckminster Fuller, his flirtation with castration, and his attempts to build a space for artists in a dangerous New York neighborhood (where he was jumped and beaten up at least twice).

But what's striking about the film is how little it resembles thetraditional documentaries of 2012 and how daring and inventive it is.Clarke's rhythmic editing draws fascinating parallels between Coleman'swords and music, and the flow of the film itself becomes jazz-like. Don't miss it.

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