“Bring your life into focus. Expose yourself to yourself.”
I first saw David Holzman’s Diary when I was in high school. I was falling in love with films and I wanted to make them. David Holzman’s Diary was recommended to me as essential viewing. I loved it. Then I went to film school. I suffered through the reality TV craze. I got really into the Dogma 95 films. I started making documentaries. I graduated. I got really depressed about the films I was seeing. I wanted to make something different. I wanted to get closer to the truth.
I started working on small films with my friends, about our lives, utilizing new technology that was small and affordable. I started showing my work. I was criticized for being narcissistic, unfocused, apolitical. I was visiting NYC and a friend invited me to a screening of David Holzman’s Diary at the Walter Reade Theater. I remembered loving it 10 years before, but I didn’t realize at the time that it had already predicted my life and work. My experience, between the first viewing of the film and the second, was up there on the screen.
I hate the term “ahead of its time,” because it lets people off the hook for not recognizing themselves in their own time. David Holzman’s Diary is one of the rare, great films that’s of its time. Jim McBride recognized that small, affordable film equipment would become both a mirror and a megaphone for filmmakers. The film is a blog. It’s a Facebook page. It’s a Twitter account. It’s also the sharpest critique of, and deepest investigation into, those media that I know of.
The lecture that David’s friend gives him while standing in front of the mural is almost exactly the conversation I have with myself every day about my own work. Am I an interesting character? Is my life a bad movie? Does pointing the camera at something inherently change it? Is it impossible to film the truth? What if I show the things I’m most embarrassed of? What if I’m extra hard on myself? What if I take my clothes off and stand naked in front of the camera for hours, doing nothing? Maybe something magical will happen. Who knows? Maybe Jim McBride knows. I won’t be surprised if I someday find myself alone in a photo booth quoting David, via Bartleby…
“I would have preferred not to have done this. But I did it.”
Joe Swanberg is the director of eight feature films, including Hannah Takes the Stairs, Alexander the Last and Uncle Kent, and the online series Young American Bodies.
DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY will become available on Fandor June 15.