Back to the Futurism
Ornette Coleman, Two Towers, Jazz Madness, a Kiss, and More
This documentary about the famous jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman has about 10 pronounced themes. This review will, due to the restriction of space, consider only five of them. The first is the City Center Towers, a complex in the center of Fort Worth, Texas. The second theme is Buckminster Fuller, an American inventor and futurist who had a profound impact on Coleman. The third is Coleman's son Denardo, a jazz drummer who got his start at the age of 10 in his father's band. The fourth is the performance of Coleman's symphonic work Skies of America by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. And the fifth is Coleman's musings about love.
Before opening each of these themes, a little background on the film's obscure director, Shirley Clarke. Born in New York City and trained primarily as a dancer, Clarke first made some noise in the world of cinema in 1961 with her debut feature, The Connection, a film about a group of jazz musicians waiting for their drug dealer. She made even more noise with her second feature, The Cool World, a film scored by the American giant Dizzy Gillespie and based on a book about a gang in New York City. Clarke made the most noise of her career with Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World, a documentary that was awarded an Oscar in 1963. Ornette: Made in America, which was completed in 1985, proved to be her last film. She died (not suddenly—she was in her 70s and suffered for years from Alzheimer's) in 1997.
And now for the themes, each of which is woven with the others to form the fabric of this documentary. The first, the City Center Towers Complex, is two Reagan-era towers that were designed by Paul Rudolph and dominate Fort Worth, the city that raised Coleman and gave him its key in 1983 (Fort Worth's mayor declared September 29, 1983, to be "Ornette Coleman Day"). The office towers also dominate Made in America. In one scene, we see them from a distance; in another, we see them from a nearby street; in another scene, we see them from a window. They are cold and indifferent to their surroundings. They are also futuristic or, closer yet, they seem to have arrived in this city from another, more technological, more rational, more powerful world. In one scene (the best and strangest in the film), we see the towers rising above a geodesic dome designed by the second theme in Made in America: Buckminster Fuller. As a string quartet performs with Coleman, Clarke cuts between an alien-looking plant, the towers, sound equipment, the glass for the dome, and Coleman discussing Fuller's concepts.
As Coleman talks about Fuller, we also see clips of his son, the third theme, drumming behind the string quartet. Although he is a grown man at this point (in his late 20s), one can't help seeing him as an impressionable boy, as a kid lost in his father's jazz madness. Denardo Coleman is a talented drummer, seems sensitive, and has a very open and close relationship with his larger-than-life father. Clarke gives a lot of attention to Denardo during the fourth theme of the documentary, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's performance of Skies of America, a piece that alternates between minimalist classical and free jazz. During the minimalist section, we see the serious orchestra; during the free jazz (if not free blues), we see the serious jazz band. The minimalist part is very vertical; the free jazz part is very horizontal or percussive. Ornette Coleman wears a white suit.
Lastly, the theme of Coleman's sexuality. He tells us several stories, the most beautiful of which is about how he was walking down the street one sunny New York day when an unknown woman approached and kissed him on the lips. She kissed; he kissed. But when he broke the kiss and asked if he knew her, she said she didn't and walked away. Coleman then reflects that if only he had asked nothing, if he had let the kiss go on, who knows what kind of future would have opened for him and for her.