ABOUT SHIRLEY CLARKE’S Portrait of Jason (1967), Ingmar Bergman remarked, “The most fascinating film I’ve ever seen.” You definitely might agree, if you were able to see this masterpiece of film portraiture. An eclectic experimental filmmaker, Clarke set out to beat Warhol at his own game—and she did. In Portrait of Jason, the titular gay, African-American hustler/cabaret performer/maid-or-butler-as-needed seizes the opportunity that Clarke offers—to perform for the camera and thus become immortal. Clarke filmed Jason Holliday over the course of a single drunken twelve-hour night and then edited the footage down to standard feature-film length. As he becomes increasingly inebriated and is wounded by needling offscreen questions and comments, his defenses crumble and his masks fall apart. But in the end the humanity of Jason Holliday, a talented, outrageously funny, feeling human being, endures. If the film (and Jason’s own determination) hadn’t made him unforgettable, what Clarke did would have been unforgivable.
In other words, this is a powerful, radical document, and it must be preserved—exactly what Milestone Film & Video’s Dennis Doros and Amy Heller are attempting to do. Right now the only way to see Portrait of Jason in the US is when the Museum of Modern Art hauls its print out of the vault, which happens infrequently. (Or, you might be lucky enough to have, as I do, a duped-down VHS. Mine is no longer playable.) Milestone has already restored and rereleased two of Clarke’s earlier features, The Connection (1961) and Ornette: Made in America (1985). The restoration of Portrait of Jason is well underway, its cost estimated at $100,000. The Academy Film Archive has contributed $25,000. Milestone can afford to put up $50,000, and it is trying to raise $25,000 by December 10 at 4:16 PM EST on Kickstarter. Over $10,000 has already been pledged. Goodies are offered for each contribution level. It only costs $50 to have your name listed in the end-credits, which is a pretty cheap way to make yourself part of a masterpiece. Milestone promises to release Portrait of Jason in theaters and on BluRay and DVD in 2013. It will also be shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel—I hope on Ingmar Bergman night.
Milestone Film & Video’s Kickstarter campaign for the restoration of Portrait of Jason can be accessed here.