“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?