This compelling orphan film came to my attention through my uncle Jim Hubbard, who was part of the tiny film crew at the infamous Hotel Chelsea. A documentary film maker, Jim is now 87. He was 40 at the time of the shoot where he handled sound. Jim’s project The Turtle Hunter (filmed in Louisiana in the ’60s) was his solo effort that brought him acclaim when it was released in 1999, winning the Margaret Mead Film Festival that year. But I digress … back to Jason …
From the Milestone Film press release:
“On the night of Dec. 2, 1966, Shirley Clarke and a tine crew convened in her apartment at the Hotel Chelsea to make a film. There, for twelve hours they filmed the one-and-only Jason Holliday as he spun tales, sand, donned costumes and reminisced about good times and bad behavior as a gay hustler, sometime houseboy and aspiring cabaret performer. The result is a mesmerizing portrait of a remarkable, charming and tortured man, who is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking.”
Jason is an extraordinary ordinary man. A master storyteller, he made his way as a gay street hustler, among many other colorful occupations. Charming, engaging and confrontational, Jason keeps the audience riveted as he drinks and smokes weed on screening, becoming more bellicose as the night wore on. Shot in one take over night, resulting in 12 hours of footage that is edited into a storytelling session that leads the viewer in and out of focus, inside Jason’s head in a confusing tangle of confessions and revealing skits that lead …. well… through a worldview showing bigotry, homophobia, usary and humor. This seminal film explores issues of race, sexual orientation, gender, class – issues of the 1960s still unresolved today.
Who is using who is a theme that runs through Jason’s life and the film. The subtext of the film is the conversation between the off screen director and crew that becomes mysteriously and confrontational and ironic.
Portrait of Jason opened the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Symposium – Real Indies: A Close Look at Orphan Films on Friday, May 10. Well worth seeing, Portrait of Jason is disturbing, touching and entertaining. It’s showing May 17-23 at the New Beverly Cinema, Los Angeles.
The attention given to this project bears witness to the ongoing concerns with social issues probed so compellingly by Clarke in the 1960s. Speculation by the panel noted below included the idea that this film became an orphan because of the female director and the black subject. Hummmm, could be … but as Jason would snap, “I’ll never tell!”
Here’s some links to the radio and press to explore.