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Blu-ray Review: David Holzman’s Diary

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The Film

“Cinema is truth 24 times per second.” So goes the pronouncement from Jean-Luc Godard, and such is the mantra of David Holzman (L.M. Kit Carson), the disillusioned aspiring filmmaker at the center of Jim McBride’s playful, Godardian examination of the nature of film, David Holzman’s Diary.

On the heels of losing his job and becoming suddenly eligible for the Vietnam draft, David decides to filter the world through his 16mm camera, shooting almost everything he does and delivering his thoughts straight into the lens. For him, it’ll be the purest expression of his life, with cinema revealing all the truths about himself he’s struggling to grasp in his day-to-day routine.

Not everyone thinks it’s as good of an idea. David’s fashion model girlfriend, Penny (Eileen Dietz) won’t even talk to him while the camera is rolling. He doesn’t understand — after all, she spends eight hours in front of a camera every day. As he continues to push the issue with her and the camera becomes like another limb for him, she moves further and further away.

David gets a similarly befuddled response from a friend, who notes the way being filmed makes him behave differently, echoing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and its application to documentary filmmaking. When a camera is affecting the proceedings, how can what is being captured be called truth?

David Holzman’s Diary is not, of course, a documentary, but McBride could certainly fool the unaware with the film’s on-the-fly verité approach, which also manages to capture a mini-time capsule of ’60s New York.

As David slips further into a celluloid world, his ties to reality dwindle. He substitutes a voyeuristic fascination with filming the girl across the way for an actual relationship with his girlfriend. He shoots a lot of film, but is he any closer to finding the truth?

McBride’s film is as inventive as it is subversive, constantly questioning the nature of truth, but never becoming simply a dreary treatise. It’s an exhilarating, sly satire that stands next to films like Albert Brooks’s Real Life and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom in its filmic examination of just what happens when a camera is introduced to life.

The Blu-ray Disc

David Holzman’s Diary is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The transfer faithfully replicates the look of the film, which features 16mm photography blown up to 35mm. Fine detail is constantly apparent amid the pleasingly grainy look of the photography, with grayscale separation and image clarity both superb. You won’t see the film look better outside of a repertory screening.

Audio is presented in a 2.0 mono track that’s also a dependable recreation of the film’s sonic state — a little rough, but certainly clear enough.

Special Features

Three more films by McBride are included as bonuses — documentaries that cover various periods of his own life. 1969’s My Girlfriend’s Wedding tells of McBride’s British girlfriend, who marries another man to secure a green card for herself. 1971’s Pictures from Life’s Other Side features McBride and that same girlfriend, now pregnant with his child, taking a cross-country road trip across the United States. 2008’s My Son’s Wedding to My Sister-in-Law is a brief retrospective about the changes in McBride’s family — significant enough to make for the odd titular scenario.

The Bottom Line

A high-def release of David Holzman’s Diary is quite a surprise — there wasn’t even a Region 1 DVD release of the film up until now — and it’s an excellent way to experience the film.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.