Monday, August 29, 2011

Real Life?

Film: David Holzman’s Diary
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Parody and satire are on life support when it comes to film. There are still a few filmmakers out there who get it; one need look no further than Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz to see someone who truly understands what these terms mean. Sadly, what gets pawned off on us as parody are the terrible ______ Movie films (Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc.), which are as similar to real parody as a good steak is to a cheap, moldy burger. They’re made of the same stuff, but one is exciting and delicious and the other will make you sick. True parody requires very deep knowledge of its subject and either an intense love for the subject or an intense hatred of it.

David Holzman’s Diary is a sort of exploration of cinema verite by means of satire through the lens of a man who evidently finds the entire style to be pretentious. Of course, as with any good satire, within the context of the film, everything is taken entirely seriously. David Holzman (L.M. Kit Carson) has lost his job and decides to create a film diary with the goal of trying to get to the truth.

Getting to the truth is the entire point of cinema verite, at least according to its practitioners. The idea is that through confrontation with the camera, we learn what is really true. The style tends to be confrontational, with the filmmaker using the camera almost offensively as a way to get people to react, and thus reveal themselves and the truth of their lives. Holzman “explores” this technique by doing things like following a woman from the subway until she turns and tells him to leave her alone.

Through the basic idea of attempting to discover something within himself both as the filmmaker and as the subject of the film, Holzman manages initially only to alienate his girlfriend Penny (Eileen Dietz), who wants to maintain some semblance of her privacy in her everyday existence. A tipping point seems to be Holzman filming her while she sleeps in the nude; her discovery upon being filmed is almost violent.

Throughout the film, most of Holzman’s explorations of cinema verite are rather dull, self-indulgent, and sometimes mentally and emotionally masturbatory. That, of course, is intentional and almost certainly the entire point of the exercise. Despite this, some of the shots are inventive and fascinating. One sequence, for instance, is a highly sped-up version of his day spent watching television. We see a fast-motion version of Bat-Man and an episode of Star Trek, a Dean Martin show, and dozens of commercials all blazing through too fast to make sense of anything, almost subliminal. In its own way, this shot is both the sort of self-indulgent verite shot director Jim McBride wanted to make fun of as well as being a great statement on television itself.

Much of the film deals with Penny’s leaving and Holzman’s meditations on this. In true verite style, a part of him is actually happy that she’s gone because, as he says, this will help him get to the “real stuff,” which is of course what he’s after. The fact that the “real stuff” that he finds is a monologue on the pleasures of masturbation is, naturally, the satirical statement that McBride was going for. This is followed by the filming of a neighbor in an apartment across the street preparing for sex with her boyfriend, which Holzman interrupts with a telephone call. The multiple meanings here are great—is the character jealous? Attempting to force the camera on someone else? A perverse sort of voyeurism? And is McBride commenting in multiple ways on the style he derides? Yes to all of these things.

David Holzman’s Diary is a unique film in that it is simultaneously fascinating and filled with nothing. What McBride actually films is dull and pointless, and the fact that it is is sort of the point. Holzman even says this to the camera during one extended monologue (“You don’t show me anything that means anything!”). The result is something that is both interesting by design and interesting in spite of itself.

If the film feels dated, it’s because cinema verite is no longer in vogue. But it still makes a great companion piece to the films of Godard and Truffaut. Unlike most satire, it’s not particularly funny. Like all good satire, it skewers its subject without remorse.

Why to watch David Holzman’s Diary: True satire/parody the way it was meant to be.
Why not to watch: It’s kind of dull, really.

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