David Holzman's Diary

1968, Movie, NR, 74 mins

Review

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A unique, often brilliant satire on cinema verite, this "fake documentary" was shot in only five days on a $2500 budget. Carson plays a young New York filmmaker who decides to get a handle on his life by putting it all down on film. Things don't go entirely as planned, however. His girlfriend leaves him in annoyance because he's constantly filming her, his artist friend Pepe (Mans) tells him that his concept is invalid, and the police punch him for harassing people with his camera. Gradually he grows more desperate as it becomes obvious that his life is only getting more confusing on film. One day he announces to the camera that he has to go to his uncle's funeral in New Jersey. In the next scene we see photographs of David of the type taken by coin-operated booths. His voice on a scratchy record says that he is making this recording in another coin-operated booth and that when he returned from New Jersey that day, he found his apartment broken into and all his equipment stolen. He tries to come to some conclusion about his life and this project but is ultimately unable to do so.

One of cinema's most pointed statements about the impossibility of objectivity in film, DAVID HOLZMAN'S DIARY breaks down the comfortable position audiences usually enjoy while watching most mainstream films. Spectators unfamiliar with experimental cinema often resent being fooled by the documentary style of the film, which highlights the concept that "documentary" is a style of filmmaking more than it is a means of presenting "truth" in some unmediated way. Unafraid to present and implicitly criticize the more unpleasant sides of its "hero," at once witty and strangely touching, this provocative, endlessly self-conscious film today stands as one of the best independent films of the 1960s. How ironically appropriate that semi-underground filmmaker McBride later went mainstream himself, offering us modern revamps of old Hollywood ideas (THE BIG EASY, GREAT BALLS OF FIRE) or attempts to recreate the magic of other innovative landmarks (BREATHLESS). leave a comment

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