The Cool World | Chicago Reader

The Cool World

125 minutes 1964

White indie filmmaker Shirley Clarke (The Connection, Portrait of Jason) took to the streets of Harlem to shoot this gritty 1964 social drama, adapted from a play by Robert Rossen (who in turn had adapted a novel by Warren Miller) and produced by documentary legend Frederick Wiseman. Clarke opens with a primer on black rage, a street activist denouncing white violence, and the racial barriers holding the community down are underlined by a sequence in which a white teacher takes his black students on a field trip to Wall Street, a statue of George Washington looming over them like a cop. For the 15-year-old hero (Hampton Clanton), the larger world doesn’t exist—he lives in the cool world, an area of a few blocks where he and his street gang, the Royal Pythons, clash with their rivals, the Wolves. The only thing that could make this world cooler would be a gun, and in the boy’s quest to acquire one from a local hustler, Clarke shows a needy child maturing into a hardened criminal.

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