David Holzman's Diary Reviews

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Super Reviewer
April 11, 2010
Obviously ahead of its time, "David Holzman's Diary" is more "important" than entertaining. Directed by the young Jim McBride ("The Big Easy," "Great Balls of Fire!") with camera work by Michael Wadleigh ("Woodstock"), this experimental film has the appearance of a self-made, autobiographical documentary. In fact, I did not realize until the closing credits that McBride was not the star.

The movie is allegedly shot over eight days by its titular protagonist, who sets out to make sense of his life through capturing it on film. He has recently lost his job, and has no daily routine. Nor does he have any notable activities, beyond nuzzling his girlfriend Jenny. Unfortunately, his insistence on carrying around a camera violates her sense of privacy, particularly in a wonderfully erotic scene where he films her sleeping naked. Say goodbye to that relationship.

The remainder of this 74-minute film partly shows his efforts to win her back, but much of the action seems random -- and often voyeuristic. He follows (and irritates) an attractive girl he sees on the subway. He films amorous lovers in a window across the street. He talks with a transsexual neighbor, who presses him with leering overtures. He indulgently rambles into the camera, including a defense of masturbation. A male friend fills in some theory, reminding us how a camera's insertion unavoidably skews the natural environment which it aims to observe. Such disjointed footage doesn't form a cohesive whole but, of course, that's the point. Cinema verite.

However, there are at least two brilliant sequences which equal Jenny's bedroom scene. One shot silently pans around a large circle of park benches, skimming past the seated people while the soundtrack metaphorically inserts the roll call of a United Nations vote. And another scene simply shows what Holzman watched on television one night. The process is carefully explained: He watched TV with his camera focused on the set, and clicked one frame every time the shot changed. The result is a two-and-a-half-minute blitz of images -- a fascinating summary of the contemporary culture.

In simulating a raw documentary, the filmmaking boldly ignores commercial polish. Scenes abruptly cut to black in a "realistic" way, and there is no sense of rhythm. Holzman's monologues drone on for an eternity -- especially a climactic tirade of frustration which erodes into little beyond him sputtering "What do you want?" and "You made me do things!" to the camera. The actor is hardly a master improviser, and just seems to run out of ideas.

"David Holzman's Diary" is not easy to watch, but it is unique. Explicitly influenced by Jean-Luc Godard, it once might have seemed like a dated period piece. But in the lurid age of reality television, it gains a whole new resonance.
Super Reviewer
February 12, 2008
This is so incredibly engrossing, especially since I thought this film was real. It really played with the notion of documentary, and although just about one dude, it's endlesslyintriguing. I actually feel kinda lucky to have seen it.
September 5, 2008
This has some good ideas, but is too amateurish and simplistic in execution. It poses Godard's quote that cinema is truth at 24 frames/sec (which really doesn't mean anything depending how one defines 'truth'). As far as a mocku-diary trying to be the real thing, the contrived nature of its fictional parts stick out sorely compared to the improvised scenes, especially one where a transsexual hooker tries to pick up the cameraman. From the current perspective all it does it affirm that there is no unique formal quality to non-fiction, and that direct cinema is no more honest than what came before.
November 3, 2009
Pseudo-documentary that could be construed as a real documentary by viewers not paying attention to the credits or reading reviews beforehand. An incredible portrayal of a young man who seems to have some good qualities but, as he says at the very beginning, has lost his job and is about to be inducted into the Army to go to Vietnam, so you realize he is probably a doomed soul. The ending is a real mindblower. A unique and devastating film.
March 10, 2015
Unsettling, bizzare, creepy as all hell - a sort of horror film in very early video blog form.
½ May 6, 2014
Like a shot in the arm, this pseudo-cinema-verite experimental film from director Jim McBride is exhilerating and refreshing about the possibilities of the form. The set-up is this: David Holzman is confused about his life's meaning and decides to record everything on film (not video, this is 1967) so he can rewatch it and work things out. However, his girlfriend Penny is not so keen on this process. Tackling all sorts of themes but primarily voyeurism (as you might suspect) and laced with a sly sense of humor, McBride and stand-in Kit Carson show us New York City life and some real characters. For me, having been born in NYC in 1967, there's an added relevance, but for all cinema devotees, it is great to see the various experiments with sound and vision (including a montage of every shot on a TV screen during one evening - with Star Trek prominent) and the various pokes in the eye that McBride offers up as he weaves together fiction and reality and experimentation (hello Kiarostami!).
November 18, 2012
Absolutely essential.
March 25, 2012
The film that first opened my eyes to the art of film was David Holzman's Diary. I re-watched it recently and once again was captivated and creatively inspired by it.
There's always a danger when you are nostalgic about a film you have seen so many years ago, that you might ruin a good memory by not enjoying it as much as you did initially all those years ago. But this was not the case with this film.
FILM IS TRUTH 24 FRAMES A SECOND
This is a quote by Jean-Luc Godard, and is used as the basis of the film. David Holzman is trying to solve the mystery of everyday life, trying to make sense of it. So he figures if he captures it all on film and watches it back it may make more sense and he can pick up on things that would normally pass him by. So he begins obsessively filming all aspects of his life, until it starts to unravel before him and he finds even less answers.
It's still so relative to today, in the age of reality television. There's a great monologue in one part of the film where a character explains that nothing that is in front of the camera and aware of the camera is natural, because of the conscious presence of the camera.
All in all though, I love the feel of the film, its shot in this brilliant black and white and the sequences where he films sweeping through the streets of 1960's new york just makes you feel like you're there, opening up and diving into an era so long gone.
Super Reviewer
April 11, 2010
Obviously ahead of its time, "David Holzman's Diary" is more "important" than entertaining. Directed by the young Jim McBride ("The Big Easy," "Great Balls of Fire!") with camera work by Michael Wadleigh ("Woodstock"), this experimental film has the appearance of a self-made, autobiographical documentary. In fact, I did not realize until the closing credits that McBride was not the star.

The movie is allegedly shot over eight days by its titular protagonist, who sets out to make sense of his life through capturing it on film. He has recently lost his job, and has no daily routine. Nor does he have any notable activities, beyond nuzzling his girlfriend Jenny. Unfortunately, his insistence on carrying around a camera violates her sense of privacy, particularly in a wonderfully erotic scene where he films her sleeping naked. Say goodbye to that relationship.

The remainder of this 74-minute film partly shows his efforts to win her back, but much of the action seems random -- and often voyeuristic. He follows (and irritates) an attractive girl he sees on the subway. He films amorous lovers in a window across the street. He talks with a transsexual neighbor, who presses him with leering overtures. He indulgently rambles into the camera, including a defense of masturbation. A male friend fills in some theory, reminding us how a camera's insertion unavoidably skews the natural environment which it aims to observe. Such disjointed footage doesn't form a cohesive whole but, of course, that's the point. Cinema verite.

However, there are at least two brilliant sequences which equal Jenny's bedroom scene. One shot silently pans around a large circle of park benches, skimming past the seated people while the soundtrack metaphorically inserts the roll call of a United Nations vote. And another scene simply shows what Holzman watched on television one night. The process is carefully explained: He watched TV with his camera focused on the set, and clicked one frame every time the shot changed. The result is a two-and-a-half-minute blitz of images -- a fascinating summary of the contemporary culture.

In simulating a raw documentary, the filmmaking boldly ignores commercial polish. Scenes abruptly cut to black in a "realistic" way, and there is no sense of rhythm. Holzman's monologues drone on for an eternity -- especially a climactic tirade of frustration which erodes into little beyond him sputtering "What do you want?" and "You made me do things!" to the camera. The actor is hardly a master improviser, and just seems to run out of ideas.

"David Holzman's Diary" is not easy to watch, but it is unique. Explicitly influenced by Jean-Luc Godard, it once might have seemed like a dated period piece. But in the lurid age of reality television, it gains a whole new resonance.
January 11, 2012
Oh come now.. this is for historical interest, only.
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