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CLOSE UP: SMOKE SCREEN

Still from Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason, 1967, 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 105 minutes.

An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger. . . . Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which robes one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned.

—James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work

“MY NAME IS JASON HOLLIDAY.” A brief pause. “My name is Jason Holliday.” A laugh. “My name is Aaron Payne.”

So begins Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason (1967), an extended interview—shaved down from an incredible twelve hours of raw footage—with its eponymous subject: a gay African American man and brilliant raconteur. Recently restored by Milestone Films, the new 35-mm print

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