Portrait of Jason
On the night of December 2, 1966, Clarke and a tiny crew convened in her apartment at the Hotel Chelsea to make a film. There, for twelve straight hours they filmed the one-and-only Jason Holliday as he spun tales, sang, 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.
Ingmar Bergman called it “the most extraordinary film I’ve seen in my life.” When it first screened in a sneak preview, the audience included Tennessee Williams, Robert Frank, Thomas Hoving, Amos Vogel, Norman Mailer, Andy Warhol, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Rip Torn, Geraldine Page and Terry Southern. But for decades, Shirley Clarke’s powerful and transgressive PORTRAIT OF JASON was unavailable and its original elements were thought to be lost.
So when Milestone decided to re-release PORTRAIT OF JASON as part of its series of restored films by Shirley Clarke, co-founder Dennis Doros had his work cut out for him: the film’s original elements were untraceable and existing 35mm prints were worn and scratched. And at times, the restoration of this seminal LGBT documentary looked like it might end up to be an extended wild goose chase. Thankfully, after a two-year search, and with the cooperation of archivists, researchers and writers from around the world, Doros was finally able to identify mislabeled “outtakes” as the film’s original 16mm interpositive.
With the financial support of hundreds of Kickstarter backers, Milestone worked with the Academy Film Archive and Modern Videofilm to create sparkling new 35mm prints and DCPs of PORTRAIT OF JASON.
PORTRAIT OF JASON is a film that plays with complexities. While it was shot in a cinema vérité style, the film’s subject is a man who readily admits to deceiving everyone — and may be lying to the camera. Was Clarke giving Holliday a stage on which to perform in what he calls his “moment,” or just using him? She worried about that herself. As Holliday notes about the ironies of life as a houseboy, “it gets to be joke sometime as to who’s using who.” Later, Clarke would say “The result, I’m convinced is a portrait of a guy who is both a genius and a bore. Although Jason says he really hasn’t had any fun as a ‘hustler’ conning people, he appears to have had the last laugh.” Any way you look at the film, it remains of the most fascinating documentaries in cinema.
Now, almost fifty years after it was filmed, PORTRAIT OF JASON is also a potent reminder of what the world was like for black gay men in the heat of the Civil Rights movement and before the Stonewall Uprising.Holliday talks about serving time at New York’s Riker’s Island jail after propositioning (or being propositioned by) an undercover cop. And his observations on the casual racism he experienced are funny, stinging, and painful.
People fell in love with Jason Holliday in 1967. In 1995, Marlon Riggs asked the question in his brilliant Black Is…Black Ain’t, “How long, Jason, how long have they sung about the freedom and the righteousness and the beauty of the black man and ignored you. How long?”
This is the year for Jason Holliday to be rediscovered.
Bonus features for the DVD and Blu-Ray
THE LOST CONFRONTATION. 7 mins
PORTRAIT OF JASON TRAILER. 2 mins
JASON: BEFORE AND AFTER. 1:30 mins
JASON UNLEASHED (AUDIO OUTTAKES). 35 mins
Clip from UNDERGROUND NEW YORK (1967) 9:37 mins
BUTTERFLY (1967) 3:41 mins
PACIFICA RADIO INTERVIEW WITH SHIRLEY CLARKE. (1967) 53 mins
THE JASON HOLLIDAY COMEDY ALBUM (Courtesy of Regina Longo) (1967, audio) 54 mins
WHERE’S SHIRLEY? 25 mins
JASON IN COLOR! 2:30 mins
SDH SUBTITLES FOR THE FEATURE FILM
Blu-ray and DVD are region free!
Sarah Fisko on WNYC reports on PORTRAIT OF JASON and Shirley Clarke:
An Explanation of Home, Classroom, and Public Performance Rights
US and Canadian nonprofit educational institutions that wish to show a film publicly outside of a scheduled class need to purchase DVDs, DVD-Rs, and Blu-rays at the institutional rate — which grants 3-year in-house streaming rights and an on-site public performance license. This in-house streaming license is for a term of three years from the date of purchase and grants the purchasing institution the right to stream over a single secure server with a password-protected connection. Streaming access must be strictly limited to currently enrolled students, faculty, and staff. Streaming rights extensions can be negotiated with Milestone after the initial three-year term has lapsed. Milestone retains the right to terminate this agreement at any time. No broadcast, Internet or other rights are granted or implied. These rights are for on-site use only per the license agreement.
Similarly, US and Canadian nonprofit educational institutions that wish to show a film publicly outside of a scheduled class via Milestone’s streaming site must contact Milestone to arrange a separate public performance license. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
US and Canadian nonprofit educational institutions that wish to screen a DVD, DVD-R, or Blu-ray they already own in an open showing must purchase a public performance license. For more information, please email email@example.com.
The purchase of DVDs, DVD-Rs, and Blu-rays at the institutional rate by anyone outside of a North American non-profit educational institution does not grant rights for public performance or streaming.
Any continuous or loop screenings as part of a museum exhibition must also be licensed separately. Inquiries must be negotiated directly with Milestone by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information for Exhibitors Screening DCPs and Film Prints
All bookings must be made by phone or email correspondence with Amy Heller (201.767.3117 or email@example.com) to negotiate terms and insure a screening copy is available. An order is only finalized when Milestone sends a written confirmation.
DCPs are shipped insured for their cost via Federal Express or UPS and must be returned the same way or by an equivalent method. Shipping and handling charges for outgoing DCPs appear on your invoice. The immediate return or transshipment (as directed) of all DCPs is your responsibility.
DCPs should be returned to:
Milestone Film & Video
38 George Street
Harrington Park, New Jersey 07640-0128
35mm and 16mm prints are shipped insured for their cost via Federal Express or UPS and must be returned the same way or by an equivalent method. Please do not ship prints back via US Mail. Exhibitor pays to ship both ways. Shipping and handling charges for outgoing prints appear on your invoice. The immediate return of all prints is your responsibility.
Prints should be returned insured for $1,000 to:
Attn: Milestone Account
235 Main Street
Little Falls, NJ 07424
For public screenings, advertising materials can be requested by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milestone is the exclusive licensor for all the titles in this catalog, all of which are available here in their complete versions.