Ornette – Made in America, Blu-ray (1986/2015)
Portrait of Jason, Blu-ray (1967/2015)
Both Directed by Shirley Clarke
Aspect Radio: 1.33:1 (Ornette – color) (Jason – b&w)
Audio: PCM mono
Subtitles: English SDH on both
Studio: Milestone Films MILEBD00142 • MILEBD00141
Extras: Ornette – Interview with Denardo, Ornette’s son and drummer (32’); Interview with the director (58’); Radio interview with Clarke (28’); Short on Felix the Cat (5’); Printed booklet of Kathelin Hoffman Gray reminisces of Coleman & Clarke. Jason – The Lost Confrontation (7’); Where’s Shirley? (25’); Jason in Color! (2:30’); Trailer – (2’); Jason Before and After (1:30’); Butterfly (3:34’); Shirley Clarke in Underground New York (9:37’); Jason Unleashed (audio only) (35’); Pacifica radio interview with Shirley (1967) (53’); Jason Holliday Comedy Album (audio only) (54’)
Length: Ornette – 78 minutes; Portrait of Jason – 107:28
Rating: **** on both
The enterprising Milestone Video (and on the Ornette film with UCLA’s Film Restoration Team) has gone to much work to resurrect these two important films made by New York filmmaker Shirley Clarke in 1967 and 1986. They had a lot trouble finding the original 16mm footage because the collections that had them said what they had were only outtakes. But it turned out Clarke’s style of filmmaking looked exactly like outtakes in some cases and that was the actual films!
The Coleman film is both a documentary on the jazz composer-performer’s life and a record of a gala concert in his hometown of Fort Worth Texas, performing his Skies of America with the Fort Worth Orchestra. This jazz great certainly had a lot of terrible struggles in his life. Coleman has a lot of interesting stories and so does his son. His music? Well, like Frank Zappa I think he was a genius but that doesn’t mean I enjoy his music. (I did like the pocket-trumpet duos he recorded with Don Cherry, which are not in this film.)
I made a short film blowing up from Super 8 to 16mm, but going from 16mm to 35mm is much more of a job and quite expensive, as Milestone found out. The couple who are Milestone have an interesting little film in the extras on their efforts to bring these films to a larger public.
Portrait of Jason is not a jazz film, but a semi-documentary of a single character just sitting or standing there and telling his many stories. The film as one of the first LGBT films to be taken seriously by general audiences. Jason is basically a street hustler and self-defined Queen. He smokes and drinks heavily during his filmic portrait, and gives quite a lively and flamboyant perspective on his alternative lifestyle. Nobody seems to be in control of what’s in front of the camera. Clarke and her photographer feed a few questions to Jason, and some of the transitions from one shot to another are made by going deliberately out of focus on Jason and then eventually coming back into focus. There are ten extras – some more interesting than others.