Once upon a time we told stories. Those stories revealed things. They told us about ourselves. They put us in union with humanity. They helped us understand our strange and sometimes disconnected lives. We don’t tell too many stories these days. We’re about content and branding. But stories unite us. They lift us up. They compel us to (as Spike Lee once observed) “Do The Right Thing.” Now what that right thing may be is, of course, different for everybody. Why else would Mr. Lee name his production company 40 Acres and a Mule? Think about it.
Art doesn’t always have to hit us over the head. In fact, great art usually reveals our shared humanity. It may not be a humanity we want to acknowledge, but in art, it is there.
David Holzman’s Diary is just such a reminder of the power – and limitations – of media. Produced in (gasp!) 1967, this is a 74-minute meditation on visual thinking. How we know what we know. Written and directed by Jim McBride, this ‘mockumentary’ asks some very compelling questions. Can the truth of our lives be reduced to a string of images? Can we understand our purpose through looking at a record of what we have done? Is there a hidden meaning or subtext to our actions that we might more fully see and appreciate by replaying them?
Of course, none of these questions find answers, but the fact that they are even asked gives the narrative a spongy, angst-ridden trail we can’t help but follow. The film works in a very interesting way, in that it provokes us to piece together in our mind the life that David must have had before we meet him. The set-up is believable and crisp: a film maker steps in front of his own camera and begins to document his life. It doesn’t take too many frames per second for the audience to see that our protagonist is the butt of a magnificent cosmic joke: He’s naked to everyone, but invisible to himself. Bad choices, bad pathology and just plain bad luck abound coalesce into a swirl that will find our hero losing his girlfriend, his camera and sound kit as wells being revealed to himself as a minor sociopath with significant control issues.
In many ways, this marvelous little gem from long ago suggests Rene Magritte. When we look only at the surface of our lives, we almost always miss the deeper meaning.
Film may be truth, but, as Mr. Lennon said, that Can’t buy me love!