Thursday, 22 August 2019

David Holzman's Diary (1968)

David Holzman's Diary
“David Holzman’s Diary” is a small movie that is more interesting than it is good and that I respect more than I like.

David Holzman is a young man in New York who got fired from his job and instead sets out to do a movie diary of his life, filming the minutiae of his world with his 16 mm camera and tape recorder. Problem is that David is not a very interesting person and his life is, well, pretty empty. He films his girlfriend, which is by far his greatest asset, and she does not like it. No wonder. He films her when she is private, when naked or sleeping and who wants to be exposed like that? Soon she leaves him and then he starts to stalk her.

He also stalks his neighbors, whom he takes a tremendous interest in, and he films random people on the street, usually without asking them first. Most of his shot are uninteresting, underscoring the fact that he has nothing really to film, and sometimes it is just David himself, raving in front of the camera about nothing.

The most interesting shot is one of his friend Pepe, who explains to him that this film is a very bad idea, that David’s life in not the basis for anything interesting and as an art project it is doomed. This comes up fairly early in the film and turns out to be prophetic.

The film ends, not with some climactic resolution or clarity or anything like that, but because David’s camera gets stolen. Yeah, that is the end to that movie. No camera, no movie.

The kicker here is that this is NOT the movie diary of a looser guy in New York, but an acted film. The guy is not David Holzman, but an actor called L.M. Kit Carson and the film was directed by an artist called Jim McBride. It’s a surprise when you learn this because everything screams an amateur with a camera and then it turns out that this is just made to look like that, a mockumentary thirty years before that became cool. In that sense it is hugely successful and brilliantly crafted. I was actually convinced this was for real until I read the synopsis.

The question then is why? Why make a movie about a guy making a movie about his worthless life. A movie that itself says that this is a stupid and useless idea in the first place? It is it just meta gone bananas?

From the snippets I have caught it is a criticism of the cinema-verité concept. That the objective is to film reality because only in reality you can find truth. This is not reality but pretending to be reality and truth it uncovers is that there is nothing there. The truth is an empty and uninteresting ideal and it does it so successful that that in itself becomes interesting.


I think “David Holzman’s Diary” works very well as an art project, but not as well as an entertaining movie. It is dull and pointless-seeming and David himself is the kind of guy I feel like kicking. Pretentious and entitled, but nothing to show for it, he is just a jerk. As a concept though and the point it tries to drive home is so far ahead of its time. I cannot help thinking of how many people use Facebook or Instagram for similar purposes and what about this blog? Am I not trying to share with the world my not particularly interesting project of watching a ton of old movies?

Food for thought…

I do appreciate you reading this though. If you got this far it cannot be that bad.



  1. I liked this more than you did but for the same reasons. I was also shocked when the credits came up and revealed that this was a fiction film. It takes real talent to make something this bad/good. What did you think about the Godard references? The icing on the cake!

    It was one of the very first reviews on my blog. March 2013.

    1. I did not know you had reviewed this one. I should check it out.
      Anybody ridiculing Godard gets a star with me. In this case it was only at the end I realized that it was ridiculing, that it was in fact a critique on itself, a parody

  2. I don't think I had seen that much Godard yet when I saw David Holzman's Diary (it's been awhile) so I missed the Godard references. Making fun of Godard's characters (not so much Godard) has become one of my favorite art-film snob pastimes, so maybe I should watch David Holzman's Diary again some time soon?

    1. I think it is more Godard's principles or philosophy it mocks. That cinema verité is pretty stupid to begin with.

  3. I liked this...but more as an interesting product of the time and distinctive style than as a great movie.

    1. That is my point exactly. It is very interesting as a statement and art project and surprisingly skillful. As entertainment though, it is rather boring, but that is exactly the point. It is supposed to be.

  4. "More interesting than it is good" is a damn fine line.