Portrait Of Jason

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People talk about Rio Bravo (1959) being one of the great “hang out” movies of all time, but, for me, Portrait Of Jason (1967) totally eclipses Rio Bravo in that department. Shirley Clarke puts you in the room with Jason Holliday and all you have to do is get comfortable and relax. Holliday is one of the great, captivating personas in all of cinema. He’s heartbreaking, hysterical, real, black, queer, fiction, and he’s always “on”.

For a long time, way before Milestone remastered and released Clarke’s works officially, I had been obsessed with her film The Cool World (1963). Portrait Of Jason is my favorite of Clarke’s films now, but if one sees The Cool World first one will begin to understand better Clarke’s singular gifts as a filmmaker. She has this uncanny ability to get non-actors to “perform”. Everyday people manage to project themselves in the most compelling way under Clarke’s direction. With Holliday Clarke has her ultimate performer.

Portrait Of Jason is just as relevant today as it was in the mid-sixties. When I screened this one year for my students they were all blown away. Never before had I heard my class laugh so hard or cry so much. Jason Holliday seems to reach down from the screen to touch everyone in the audience in this very intimate and unique way. Which is why I am convinced that, even though the film is a documentary, the synthesis of Clarke and Holliday make this film poetry.