Portrait of Jason
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Described by Clarke as a response to the cinema verité works of Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker, Portrait of Jason is a fascinating, moving depiction of Jason Holliday, an African American gay prostitute and aspiring nightclub performer. Filmed over twelve hours, from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., in Clarke’s apartment, Holliday’s nonstop talking was interrupted only by the reloading of the camera. Clarke described it as “the first time I was able to give up my intense control and allow Jason and the camera to react to each other.” As the sole person on screen, Jason “performs” for the camera, improvising and impersonating, relating stories, confessing his sexual encounters, and ultimately revealing himself. It is a self that may or may not relate to the stories he has told, but which comes to “life” before the camera. In Clarke’s verité exposé, there is no truth; there is a production. “One thing I never expected was the highly charged emotional evening that took place,” she said. “How the people behind the camera reacted that night is a very important part of what the film is about.”
Shirley Clarke, Willard Van Dyke, United States, 1959
Nominated for an Academy Award, this inventive documentary about the construction of a Fifth Avenue high-rise was described by Clarke as “a musical comedy about the building of a skyscraper.”