“OK, Jason, here we go.”
“My name is Jason Holiday.
My name is Jason Holiday…
My name is Aaron Payne”
“What do you mean, Aaron Payne?”
“Aaron Payne, that was my given name and in San Francisco I got involved with a group of people that were under the influence of Sabu. He was changing people's names to suit their personalities and he changed my name. Jason Holiday was created in San Francisco and San Francisco is a place to be created, believe me.”
And here begins one of the most incredible and influential films in cinema. For twelve hours over the course of the evening of December 3, 1966, director Shirley Clarke and her friends interviewed Jason Holiday about his life, his loves, his work and his beliefs. Jason, a 33-year-old hustler dreaming of a career as a nightclub entertainer, dazzles the audience with stories of confrontations with his family growing up in Trenton, the orgies he has attended, and the hustling that has formed the pattern of his life as a black, gay man. He recalls his college days before dropping out, working as a bar hustler and as a servile houseboy in San Francisco, becoming a heroin addict and spending time in jail, and his time in a hospital mental ward. He describes his existence while waiting for his dream to come true: “I have more than one ‘hustle,’ I’ll come on as a maid, a butler, a flunky, anything to keep from punching the nine to five… I am scared of responsibility and I am scared of myself because I’m a pretty frightening cat… Like I don’t mean any harm, but the harm is done.”
PORTRAIT OF JASON is a film in which Jason Holliday is given the entire screen for an hour and 45 minutes, during which time he makes probably as candid a self-revelation as has been known in the history of motion pictures or literature. And yet, how much is true and how much is a performance? Shirley Clarke’s films were always exploring the border between cinema verité and fiction — and PORTRAIT OF JASON may well be her masterpiece.
Daring, provocative, ground-breaking and truly gripping, PORTRAIT OF JASON was one of the first LGBT films to be taken seriously by the general audiences. It remains one of the most remarkable films of American independent filmmaking.
© 2012 Milestone Film and Video. All rights reserved.