The Cool World | Chicago Reader

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125 minutes · 1964

Drama
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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