David Holzman's Diary (1967)
I would argue that this rarely seen film is the quintessential movie about movies. It bridges so many genre gaps including documentary, drama, cinephile's picks, and avant-garde. It's fake, it's real, it's truth, it's a lie...
"David Holzman's Diary" is in part a film just about the lies of movie making. I've said before that film can be incredibly manipulative, even in its most naked form, documentary. There is so much you can do with scores, film editing, dubbing, computer graphics...it comes to a point where you cannot trust anything about film. This is what "David Holzman's Diary" is about.
Film can also be about truth. When actors accurately capture the essence of a human gesture or when a real situation is portrayed on film, there can be truth there—this is what I consider to be great film making, when truth is revealed. This is also what "David Holzman's Diary" is about.
The film follows David Holzman (L. M. Kit Carson) as he decides to make a video diary with his camera and sound equipment. This man is obsessed with film in a way that not many people can understand. He quotes from famous directors, but it's obvious that the man he is most inspired by is Jean-Lus Godard.
He uses Godard's own words: film is truth 24 times a second, as his mission statement while he starts to make his diary.
His girlfriend, Penny, is not accepting of this idea. In fact, she's very opposed to it and the constant recording is a source of tension between the two.
David still wants to find a great truth though, he continues to tape, even recording a very long monologue that his friend gives about how utterly ridiculous the whole project is. The friend, while smoking and posing against a mural, tells David and the camera itself how stupid David's life is. Though the film David wants to make is the predecessor to a vlog, the friend knows that there will never be complete truth in the film because you alter your personality when there's a camera in your face. It is never you, always just some close-to-you.
Penny gets more and more distant as the days wear on and David isn't making it easy for her. He films her while she sleeps, seeing her at her most vulnerable, her most truthful.
"David Holzman's Diary" makes significant commentary on how a camera is actually used. We are the camera in many movies, an observer, someone who is present but unseen. This film destroys that notion, and if it doesn't completely shatter it, it does prove how ludicrous it is. How absurd that we should assume ourselves as a bystander; yet that's what film has evolved into.
"David Holzman's Diary" makes us a true observer, and in that way, it pulls us away from the film itself. It lets us know we are watching though a camera— this distinction means that the camera and the viewer are actually separate so that when David starts to address the camera as a personality, we don't feel uneasy...but we should.
It's actually a staggering achievement in film, genius in many ways; but that doesn't make it enjoyable.
"David Holzman's Diary" is a tad bit confused, suffering underneath all the layers of its commentary. It's cinematography and poignancy haven't aged through the decades. This is a movie that will remain suspended in time.
Though Godard is referenced and his statement is the most important line in the film, "David Holzman's Diary" is a neurotic, film-laden journey...and a somewhat unpleasant one at that.
Posted by Micah Jones