A forerunner, or perhaps the genesis, of the mockumentary genre, Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary (1967) is something of a straight cousin of Paul Morrissey’s Flesh (1968). David Holzman, played by L.M.Kit Carson, is an unemployed filmmaker who starts making a diary-style film about himself. Set in the upper West side of Manhattan, the film is a collage of moments woven together by the presence of "Holzman", who is very convincingly played by Carson; the line between the two spheres involved in this type of filmmaking is seriously blurred here.
On the surface it looks like a verity film and it does include spontaneous scenes like the one where a transsexual pulls up the car and starts talking to a non-diegetic cameraman. Like in the Morrissey/Warhol movies, there is a lot of talking directly to the camera, outbursts of anger between characters and the feeling that the personas being recorded by the camera are ‘on the edge’, although Morrissey’s films had a more latent sense of danger than McBride’s. What those films do have in common is a similar "existential dread" as Jonathan Rosembaum puts it in the accompanying booklet.
Amid the free-flowing, episodic structure of this rather scratchy and low-key movie, there are some arresting moments, such as the fast-edited sequence with split-second clips of what Holzman saw on television and the one when he carries the camera above his head, the result being a circular frame that makes the pavement railings look like a railroad track.
Jim McBride may not be the best-known name associated with the American New Wave canon (he’s mostly remembered for directing the 1983 remake of Breathless), but David Holzman’s Diary should rank somewhere quite high as far as reflexive cinema/film about film goes. It’s also a great reminder of how bleak the 1960s really were: the street scenes offer a stark contrast with the soft-focus, flower-power footage that dominates the official, televisual iconography of the period. The DVD also includes a film McBride made in 1969, My Girlfriend’s Wedding in which he portrays his English ex-girlfriend, Clarissa, on the eve of her marriage to ‘an activist’ in order to get a Visa. Clarissa’s posh, stoned utterings on "the revolution" sometimes give the impression that she is actually Jennifer Saunders doing an impersonation. The extra features also include an interview with Jim McBride shot in December 2005 in Los Angeles.
Plus: Intimate Lighting/Intimi osvetleni (Czechoslovakia, 1965. Dir: Ivan Passer. With Karel Blazek, Zdenek Besusek, Vera Kresadlova) – One of the most revered films of the Czech New Wave, which has been gathering praise throughout the decades, this DVD release will hopefully increase visibility for this small cinematic gem. Intimate Lighting unfolds over the course of a weekend when a musician returns to his home village where one of his old friends still lives, working as the head of the local music school. The prodigal friend brings in tow an urbane, giggly girlfriend, a contrast with the rough-hewn peasant women from the village. Their time together is a sequence of alternately mundane and idiosyncratic moments infused with grace, humanity and facetious use of music. The final scene, where the characters are shown frozen around a table trying to drink a sticky eggnog, synthesises the theme of the immutability of fate.Intimate Lighting may not have the same popularity as its French New Wave counterparts, but it’s up there with the early films of Godard and Truffaut. The DVD includes an interview with Ivan Passer shot in Los Angeles in December 2005.
David Holzman’s Diary and Intimate Lighting are out now