Get us in your inbox

Ornette: Made in America

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Ornette Coleman, center, and his band in Ornette: Made In America
Ornette Coleman, center, and his band in Ornette: Made In America

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

We begin at what, in a conventional documentary, could be an ending: Jazz innovator Ornette Coleman is lauded by the mayor of his Fort Worth, Texas, hometown and prepares for a celebratory concert. But the late, great director Shirley Clarke (The Connection) wasn’t one to adhere to accepted standards of nonfiction filmmaking for her final feature, which is being released in a pristine new print by Milestone Films. Though she had a semirigid frame to work within—Coleman’s 1983 benefit performance of his composition Skies of America, which is woven throughout the film—Clarke preferred to follow the lead of her soft-spoken subject as often as possible, riffing and improvising as the spirit moved.

Coleman’s life and work are treated as a continuum, which Clarke pulls from at will. The musician’s childhood is recalled via reenactments that have the try-anything verve of amateur theater, and Clarke makes illuminating use of footage in a geodesic dome during Coleman’s impassioned ode to systems theorist Buckminster Fuller. Out of these free-form associations—collapsing past, present and future—a vivid portrait of the man emerges, and though a few sequences (notably a too-jokey outer-space interlude) come off as more desperate than inspired, Clarke’s instincts serve her well. In one particularly inventive scene, she counterpoints a Coleman tune with the beeps and blips of arcade games—an aesthetic masterstroke that manages to capture this vital performer’s essential alienness as well as sum up both artists’ incessant originality.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

Written by Keith Uhlich
You may also like
You may also like

The best things in life are free.

Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

Loading animation
Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!