Filmmaker Shirley Clarke ("The Connection") directs this powerful, stark semi-documentary look 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. There is no patronizing of the black race in this cinematic cry for justice. A fifteen-year-old boy called Duke is ambitious to buy a "piece" (a gun) from an adult racketeer named Priest, to become president of the gang to which he belongs, and to return them to active "bopping" (gang fighting) which has declined in Harlem. It is a clearly patent allegory of an attempt by Duke to attain manhood and identity in the only way accessible to him - the antisocial one.
The Cool Word is a Ground Breaking Film
The Cool World is the first film about Harlem that was actually shot in Harlem. Hanging the camera from the ceiling provides a very personal experience for the viewer. The viewer is there as a participant, not as a spectator.
The Cool World is a very much not a Hollywood looking film with fast moving, up close, scenes. Dark yellow hued interior scenes capture the true feeling of the dwellings of the gang members. Shirley Clarke has taken us into The Cool World.
Little known trivia, is that Wally Cox's wife acted in this film. Another little known piece of trivia is that, since she lived in the Chelsea Hotel during the time that Sid Vicious also lived there, Shirley Clarke was a consultant on the film Sid and Nancy.
After filming 'The Connection' in one room, Shirley Clarke this time came closest to making a classical feature film by taking to the mean streets of Harlem with a camera crew for this cinema verite equivalent of 'West Side Story', with a vivid jazz score by Mal Waldron; this time the rival gangs both being black, the hero belonging to the Pythons, whose mortal foes are The Wolves.