May 21, 2013

Academy Conversations: The Cinematic Impact of PORTRAIT OF JASON

On May 10, I had one of the most powerful screening experiences of my life. No exaggeration. To open the third biennial "Orphans West" film symposium, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences assembled 5 speakers, 2 files (a DCP and an MOV, to be precise), and a first-rate tech team to present its new restoration of the 1967 film Portrait of Jason. As with the 2001 Orphan Film Symposium 35mm screening of Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977), as restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, I was expecting something great -- but again my expectations were surpassed. Again both the power of the movie and the quality of the restoration took be aback with their greatness.

The screen in the Linwood Dunn Theater is huge, particularly for a facility of fewer than 300 seats.

The seats were filled with an audience who knew this was going to be something special. Indeed it was. Elvis Mitchell, who moderated the post-screening discussion, was assigned the seat next to mine in the second row. About 20 minutes into Portrait of Jason, he got up and walked to the back of the auditorium. No, Elvis had not left the building to check his e-mail; he was retreating from the intensity of the movie. Jason Holliday (or Aaron Payne, by birth) is already a larger than life character, but Shirley Clarke's camera presents him in close ups, tighter close ups, and nothing ever more distant than a medium long shot. To escape the claustrophobic intensity, our moderator chose to view the rest of the movie from the back of the theater.

Compounding the emotional impact of the film's ending, was the addition of a short outtake, or more specifically an audio clip (on MOV). The movie's final moments are already painful to watch. While we watch Jason at the end of his all-night meltdown, we hear from off camera Shirley Clarke and her sometimes-companion, actor Carl Lee, beleaguering their on-camer subject. In this outtake, an even more sado-masochistic verbal exchange occurs. Shirley tells Jason that he once did something so terrible to her that it made her want to kill herself.  No one knows what the incident was.

If you can find a theatrical screening, don't wait for the Blu-Ray/DVD release. Portrait of Jason is currently running at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.

Below, from AMPAS, is a 5-minute video, Academy Conversations: The Cinematic Impact of Portrait of Jason.

Elvis Mitchell moderates a discussion of Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason (1967) with Academy Documentary Branch governor and Oscar recipient Rob Epstein (Times of Harvey Milk), documentarian and Oscar recipient Jeffrey Friedman , (Common Threads), Clarke's assistant during the shooting of POJ Robert Fiore (also director of Pumping Iron and an NYU Tisch alum), and Milestone Films' Dennis Doros. Recorded during "The Real Indies: A Close Look at Orphan Films" on May 10, 2013 at the Linwood Dunn Theater.

Here's the view from Oscar's YouTube channel:

NYU and the Orphan Film Symposium thank the Academy for so generously hosting this event.
And thanks to Milestone for granting us a preview in advance of POJ's West Coast theatrical release.