The Cool World (1964)

The Cool World is about life in the African-American ghetto in the early 1960s. A black teenager robs, brawls, and peddles dope on the mean streets of Harlem, dreaming of walking tall with his gang, the Royal Pythons, and his idol, a hipster-pusher named Priest.
There is a clearly patent allegory of an attempt to attain manhood and identity in the only way accessible to him - the antisocial one: the desperate meaning of segregation that will not easily be erased even if every civil rights battle is won for the next ten years…

The Cool World is the first film about Harlem that was actually shot in Harlem. Shilrley Clarke's film is a landmark of American independent cinema for its blending storytelling with documentary-style location shooting. Hanging the camera from the ceiling provides a very personal experience for the viewer. Dark yellow hued interior scenes capture the true feeling of the dwellings of the gang members.
Clarke looks at the horrors of Harlem ghetto slum life filled with drugs, violence, human misery, and a sense of despair due to the racial prejudices of American society.
Armed with the eye of an Italian neo-realist, Clarke stand as benchmarks of the American new wave, exploring the boundaries between fiction and documentary. Clarke's lens was more than a recording device: it was a provocateur exploring the cinematic bond between actor, filmmaker and viewer.

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