Among the 25 motion pictures to be named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress is Portrait of Jason, the 1967 cinema vérité documentary by Shirley Clarke that paints a beguiling portrait of Jason Holliday — a black gay hustler, raconteur and aspiring cabaret star. Filmed for 12 straight hours in Clarke’s penthouse apartment at the Hotel Chelsea on December 3, 1966, Holliday reminisced on the times he had, wrapping himself in the occasional feather boa and visibly becoming less sober as the night wears on.
As the Library of Congress notes:
“In one of the first LGBT films widely accepted by general audiences, Shirley Clarke explored the blurred lines between fact and fiction, allowing her subject, Jason Holliday (né Aaron Payne), a gay hustler and nightclub entertainer, to talk about his life with candor, pathos and humor in one 12-hour shoot. Clarke originally envisioned Jason as the only character, but she subsequently revealed: ‘When I saw the rushes I knew the real story of what happened that night in my living room had to include all of us [the off-screen voices. her crew and herself], and so our question-reaction probes, our irritations and angers, as well as our laughter remain part of the film.’ Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described it as a ‘curious and fascinating example of cinéma vérité, all the ramifications of which cannot be immediately known.’ Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman called it ‘the most extraordinary film I’ve seen in my life.’ Thought to have been lost, a 16 mm print of the film was discovered at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in 2013 and has since been restored by the Academy Film Archive, Milestone Films and Modern Videofilm.”
The doc recently came to the attention of a new audience thanks to director Stephen Winter’s Jason & Shirley, an imagining of what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling. Starring Jack Waters and Sarah Schulman as Holliday and Clarke, Armond White wrote: they “try exorcising the disaster of Portrait of Jason. But for viewers, it’s like revisiting a dreadful memory—or, in Oprah speak: giving power to the enemy.”
“Watch a clip below: