The Cool World is a film not unlike Killer of Sheep, which it predates. It deals with life in a black neighborhood, and what it was like to live in such a place; The Cool World being focused on Harlem in NYC, while Killer of Sheep was set in L.A. The two films are very similar in many ways, which I’ll get to in a sec, which of course begs the question; why are both films on the list? Well, to be honest, I can’t come up with a good answer to that, even hypothetically. The two are really two sides of the exact same coin, and to have them both take up a slot on the list seems redundant in a major sense of the word.
As far as I could discern as to the plot of the film, it follows a young man named Duke Custis, who’s a member of a gang in the Harlem streets called the Royal Pythons. The film details his attempts to gain legitimacy on the streets and cement his reputation with the gang, while also providing a portrait of life amid the black culture of Harlem. It’s to that end that the film is much like Killer of Sheep, including in cinematography and mood. The film looks very washed out, and almost never in focus; if I were to guess, it was shot either on Super 8 or a very low quality 16mm film, and the equipment used to shoot the film most likely wasn’t of good quality. While the people directly behind the camera may not have been professionals, or even knew what they were doing half the time, the storytellers themselves at least had a pretty decent vision of what they wanted, even if that vision wasn’t really cohesive or finished. The film meanders a lot between vignettes of life in Harlem, framed with the character of Duke Custis, who is usually around to see or experience the various segments of the story, and while this means the film doesn’t have much of a narrative, I can forgive it that, since a narrative isn’t the intention behind this film; it is meant to convey what life is like in this colored neighborhood, and to that end it succeeded.
I couldn’t get into this film as much as I would’ve liked for many reasons. The poor quality for one, the lack of narrative for another, but mostly, as the film went on, I was just bugged by how similar it was to Killer of Sheep, and I got too wrapped up in why both films were on the list. I appreciated what The Cool World was trying to achieve (and, in my opinion, it largely succeeds), but the issues I had with it just didn’t clear up at all by the end of the film, and try as I might to ignore them, I could not; they were like brambles entangled in my pant legs. Unless you’re a list completionist, I’d advise you to pick either this or Killer of Sheep, but there’s very little other reason to watch both of them. I didn’t really know what I was going to get when I started this, but ultimately, I just ended up with an experience I had already had, which is an experience I am going through the list to pretty much avoid.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10