I’ll Be Your Mirror: Jim McBride’s “My Girlfriend’s Wedding”

Clarissa Ainley Bares All in "My Girlfriend's Wedding"

Note: The following passages are excerpted from the essay David Holzman’s Diary / My Girlfriend’s Wedding: Historical Artifacts of the Past and Present, written by Jonathan Rosenbaum for the DVD booklet of the UK region 2 release by Second Run DVD of David Holzman’s Diary and My Girlfriend’s Wedding, both directed by Jim McBride. Parts of this essay regarding David Holzman’s Diary were re-published on Keyframe to commemorate the digital premiere of the film on Fandor. The article can be read in its entirety on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s website as well as in his recent book Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition.

In many respects, the best “critique” of David Holzman’s Diary that I know is McBride’s 63-minute follow-up to it… Girlfriend’s value as a critique of its predecessor isn’t just because it inverts some of David Holzman’s theoretical premises–by being a real personal documentary with some of the characteristics of a fiction, chronicling McBride’s excited and enraptured discovery of his attractive new girlfriend Clarissa. (”At the time I made it,” he told me when I interviewed him for the French magazine Positif in the early 70s, “I was fond of referring to it as a fiction film, because it was very much my personal idea of what Clarissa was like, and not at all an objective or truthful view.”)

In fact, the dialectic it forms with David Holzman operates on several clearly conscious levels, starting with its possessive title, which is now in the first person, as well as an overt early reference to Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” (which figured at the very end of the previous film) and a reintroduction of the same Éclair 16 mm camera. The English girlfriend in question, in flight from her upper-class background, is indeed the ostensible focus, as is her irreverent decision to marry a Yippie activist she met only a week ago in order to remain in the states. (Perhaps for legal reasons—which also presumably accounts for some of the blipped-out names—the fact that McBride was married to though separated from someone else at the time goes unmentioned.) But in the very first shot we can also hear and then see McBride as he asks Clarissa to hold up a mirror facing him and Wadley, prompting her until she gets it right—-an apt metaphor for much of what follows. And there’s a similar sense of displacement in the way he asks her to identify the contents of her purse; for much as Holzman loves to inventory his own possessions, including his attractive girlfriend Penny (Eileen Dietz), in front of his own camera, McBride is asking Clarissa to describe her own possessions while implicitly showing her off as a possession of his.

Some of the other rhyme effects between the films are less immediately obvious, but no less telling for that. The counterpart to David’s fragmented record of an entire evening spent watching television —-one frame per shot change adding up to 3,115 separate shots in less than a minute —- is Jim’s far more exuberant home-movie montage chronicling his drive with Clarissa from New York to San Francisco. And this points in turn to a radically redefined relation to both life and politics expressed in the two films. David virtually begins by telling us he just lost his (nameless) job and has been reclassified A-1 by his draft board, but the issue of being unemployed and potentially drafted into the Vietnam war never comes up directly again after that. By contrast, the issue of Clarissa having a job (as a coffeehouse waitress) and the impact of her father’s war experience are discussed at some length, and there’s hardly anything else in the film that isn’t politically inflected. If David Holzman explores how to think about various matters, My Girlfriend’s Wedding fearlessly explores and even proposes how to live.

Jonathan Rosenbaum is a film critic and author of many books, most recently Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition.


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