The year of 1967 was a stellar one for films. It was the year of The Graduate, Valley of the Dolls, Bonnie & Clyde, and To Sir, With Love. A number of my favorites come from this year, and I contemplated using the 1967 in Film Blogathon as a chance to rave about a film I’ve loved for years.
But after scrolling through my Netflix queue, I noticed that I had only one film from 1967 waiting to be viewed: David Holzman’s Diary.
Many of my favorites from 1967 are traditional Hollywood productions with big casts, big budgets and highly dramatic stories. David Holzman’s Diary is something a bit different: It’s a work of “docu-fiction,” has no recognizable cast members and was independently produced by writer/director Jim McBride on a shoestring budget of less than $3,000.
The film opens with David Holzman (L.M. Kit Carson) telling the camera that he has lost his job and that he now plans to fill his time with something that he’s been wanting to try for a while: putting his whole life down on film through a video diary. “Film is truth 24 times a second,” he quotes, showing his motivation for the project: to find the truth about his own life.
Shot in documentary style, David Holzman’s Diary makes the viewer feel like they’re truly watching a video diary rather than watching a film about a man who likes making video diaries. We see New York City in the late 1960s through the eyes of David, and he speaks directly to the camera about his experiences. David refers to his video and sound equipment as his “friends,” showing them off to the viewer, and utters dates the beginning of each diary “entry.” This style as well as Carson’s lead performance lend a very authentic feel to the film.
The pace of the film is slow, but deliberately so. Our daily lives are not full of the excitement and glamour that we typically expect to see in films, so the pace leads – once again – to an increased sense of authenticity for the film.
The plot of this film is quite an inventive idea for 1967, when “selfie” was not yet a word that existed in the American vocabulary and people didn’t make six-figure salaries by posting 10-minute videos of their daily lives on YouTube for the world to see. Since our society has transformed into one of self-absorption, David Holzman’s Diary is more relevant now than it’s ever been. IThe technological capacity would not yet have existed for David to share his footage with the whole world on a regular basis, but his diary is of similar concept to daily vlogs.
In addition to its modern relevance, this film is striking in its portrayal of the consequences that come along with David’s video obsession. His girlfriend Penny’s hatred for the camera drives a wedge in their relationship. (This isn’t explored quite as deeply as I expected it to be, but we do see a lot of resistance from her to the diary, as well as from some of David’s other friends.)
These consequences provide another parallel to the modern world. Many people (including a large proportion of the world’s teens and young adults, in my experience) can’t have a five-minute conversation without getting distracted by social media and picking up their cell phones, either to post something about themselves or to obsessively read the posts of others. In writing this film, Jim McBride unintentionally predicted the ways in which constant life documentation would lead to a diminished quality of interpersonal relationships. These tools were built to connect us, but do they instead drive us apart?
Though David Holzman’s Diary is clearly very relevant to the 2014 audience, its meaning in 1967 was much different. It comes off as a study in obsession — both David’s obsession with his 1967 approximation of “vlogging” and his obsession with Penny. “You don’t tell me the right things. You don’t show me the right things. You don’t show me anything that means anything!,” he says to his friend, the camera, admitting that he has to rearrange the video segments to give purpose to his own life story. David blames the camera – “You have made me do things,” he laments – for the dissolution of his relationship with Penny, unable to accept his own role in the destruction of the relationship, unaware of his own importance in his experiences.
The story comes to a close with David admitting that he learned nothing from the experience of creating the video diary, and wishing that he never would have made it. David ponders whether his video diaries have any true meaning, bringing to the viewer’s mind questions about the importance of our own lives and experiences.
Prophetic, thought-provoking and philosophical: Jim McBride probably didn’t intend his film to be any of these things, instead aiming to spoof the cinéma vérité style. Though not a traditional Hollywood film with a highly-developed story and lots of drama, David Holzman’s Diary is well worth a watch and without a doubt one of the most interesting films of 1967.