“Okay. This is, um… This is the story… This is very important. This is a fairy tale. This is, uh… Please pay attention.” So begins David Holzman’s Diary, a 1967 “documentary” about a young New Yorker who wants to turn his life into a film but hasn’t really thought about what shape the film should take or considered the cost of living on camera. Directed by Jim McBride and starring L.M. Kit Carson (who helped shape the film), Diary plays it straight until the closing credits, no doubt fooling viewers used to ’60s student and experimental films that borrowed the language of cinéma vérité to capture the world as they found it.
But unlike Diary, those films seldom considered that the camera itself might reshape the world. About a third of the way in, while in the process of driving his girlfriend away with his incessant filming, Carson gets a lecture from a friend (Lorenzo Mans) who tells him to stop what he’s doing because “as soon as you start filming something, whatever happens in front of the camera isn’t reality anymore.” The rest of the film plays like a cautionary tale about the problems of not heeding that advice. Carson quotes Godard, spies on his neighbor, gets chatted up by a chain-smoking transsexual, compresses hours of a TV broadcast, and in one remarkable sequence, tests a fisheye lens by carrying it above his head and gazing up ecstatically, enraptured by the mere act of filming himself. He makes a movie, but never stops to wonder why he’s shooting in the first place. Though the film comes from a specific time and place—to say nothing of specific technological era of relatively portable and cheap cameras and recording equipment—his descent is prescient, anticipating reality television, YouTube culture, and other forums where people can demand, “please pay attention” without putting forth a reason for attention to be paid.
That doesn’t mean there’s no value in pointing the camera at the world, however. Long unavailable on DVD, Diary gets a belated release that includes a pair of other early McBride films: 1969’s My Girlfriend’s Wedding and 1971’s Pictures From Life’s Other Side. In the former, McBride films his British girlfriend’s green card-ensuring wedding to a self-styled radical. They all make a mockery of the ceremony, then find themselves strangely troubled by the whole affair and the act of filming it. It’s a compelling companion piece to Diary, both for the way McBride ends up mirroring his most famous creation and the way it captures the casual talk of counterculture types who knew that the revolution was just around the corner. Pictures, which films McBride’s cross-country trip with the same, now-pregnant, girlfriend and her son, is less interesting, apart from accidentally capturing the son’s ever-growing Oedipal complex as he’s forced to share a hotel room with his clothing-averse mom and her boyfriend. One typically dull scene features McBride getting a haircut, suggesting that Holzman wasn’t the only one who could fall under the camera’s thrall.
Key features: Though nearly as long as Diary, those subsequent films are included as bonus features along with the recent eight-minute short “My Son’s Wedding To My Sister-In-Law,” which follows the strange connections that allowed the title event came to pass.