Portrait of Jason Screen 12 articles

Portrait of Jason

1967

Portrait of Jason Poster
  • One man show, fueled by one scotch bottle, in Shirley Clarke's living room, one tough night only. You meet people like this all the time, at least in major metropolitan areas — self-styled hot messes whose only plausible talent is for holding court, no matter what artistic aspirations they claim — and Clarke's unflinching in letting Jason reel out the rhetorical rope and slowly attach it to the ceiling.

  • In the end the humanity of Jason Holliday, a talented, outrageously funny, feeling human being endures. If the film (and Jason’s own determination) hadn’t made him unforgettable, what Clarke did would have been unforgivable. In other words, this is a powerful, radical document, and it must be preserved.

  • During Shirley Clarke’s mesmerizing 1967 nonfiction film, “Portrait of Jason,” an African-American hustler sits, talks, stands and talks some more, spinning words that sometimes feel like webs and at other times like walls... “Portrait of Jason” is about a lot of things, sex included, along with the blur between fact and fiction. As a manifestation of Clarke’s lifelong interest in African-Americans it can also feel like part of her own self-portrait.

  • You could spend a lifetime peeling the glass onion of Shirley Clarke’s merciless documentary, in which a born performer drops incinerating truth bombs while putting the con in confessional moviemaking. As slippery in its own identity as its subject, this totally quotable, long-neglected vérité nugget... serves as a sideways time capsule, creating a blurry snapshot of an Afro-camp subculture during the era of Christopher Street bar raids and burn-baby-burn rioting.

  • The resulting film, a raw-edged sketch of furiously extended takes with the seams showing, is a masterwork of grand-scale intimacy, in which the extraordinary protagonist, alone on-screen for an hour and a half, seems to give birth to his new identity in real time even as he also invents the medium of performance art.

  • The film is a conversation between two disadvantaged artists with indelible personalities, both of whom are unabashedly manipulating their way into at least the esoteric side of the everlasting. Clarke's portrait immortalizes Jason in the same sense that a death mask—one covered in its sculptor's quick, pithy fingerprints—might preserve its subject's uncanny likeness.

  • Holliday is often magnetic, but he's almost as frequently tedious. The latter quality does nothing to diminish his overall magnetism—or the prescience of his being. He's a figure that foreshadows today's reality-celebrity complex, although his wit and intelligence elevate him above the Real Housewives and other human detritus.

  • ...“Portrait of Jason” is, without a doubt, Shirley Clarke’s most radical, as well as her most personal, film... It disturbed me then and, seen again last week, it disturbs me still. Jason is a gifted raconteur with an undisciplined act. His stories are fascinating and funny, if increasingly painful, and he has more than one spritz worthy of Richard Pryor or Lenny Bruce. But, falling back on impersonations, he camps rather than performs.

  • The film is incredibly moving throughout, a masterpiece of affective manipulation, and just as strongly is an elaborate self-critique, continually stressing at every turn that nothing we see is unadorned, no story we hear can be trusted, no sob not at the same time a back-handed chuckle. Has Holliday been lying all along? And would that really diminish the power of his words?

  • Through formal intervention, Clarke is never absent, though her voice is only seldom heard off screen. Before Holliday even introduces himself, Clarke is heard giving the command to roll film. As Holliday speaks, focus pulls, at first only slightly augmenting his face, but gradually a full rack focus renders him a complete blur, though he continues to speak.

  • The film’s simplicity is a deception. Although Clarke’s method may seem ‘artless’, David Bordwell notes the transitions only mimic casual shooting. The film _appears_ to unfold chronologically, but the out-of-focus passages conceal edits and obscure the progress of the shoot.2 The missing time is left unaccounted for, and we will probably never know in what order the events unfolded.

  • From today’s perspective, as the movie begins, Portrait of Jason seems less like a vacation from American reality than a rocket ship into the future of gay liberation. Dapper, blazered Jason Holliday—he’s on camera, drink(s) and cigarette(s) in hand, for the entire film—is unlike any gay man who had ever been seen in a movie before. He’s amusing, profane, explicit, and—most startlingly for the time—seemingly without shame, reservation, or embarrassment.

More Links