6 user 48 critic

Portrait of Jason (1967)

Black gay prostitute Jason Holliday is rigorously interviewed on his story and character, revealing nuanced truths about life and art.


Shirley Clarke
1 win. See more awards »




Cast overview:
Jason Holliday ... Self
Shirley Clarke ... Interviewer (voice)
Carl Lee Carl Lee ... Interviewer (voice)


The highlights of a 12-hour interview with Aaron Payne, alias Jason Holliday, a former houseboy, would-be cabaret performer, and self-proclaimed hustler who, while drinking and smoking cigarettes and pot, tells stories and observations of what it was like to be black and gay in 1960s America. Written by <havan_ironoak@bigfoot.com> and <elfdorado@sbcglobal.net>

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"The most fascinating film I've ever seen" - Ingmar Bergman


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


This film was previously thought to have been lost, until a 16 mm print of the film was discovered at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in 2013 and has since been restored by the Academy Film Archive, Milestone Films and Modern Videofilm. See more »


Featured in What Is Cinema? (2013) See more »

User Reviews

Film as primordial art
25 October 2015 | by markwood272See all my reviews

I first saw this strange little gem 10/19/15 on TCM on demand. From 1967 and directed by Shirley Clarke, the movie can be described simply: just one person, Jason Holliday, in front of the camera, talking about himself, getting drunk and stoned. No music, no clever editing or camera effects.

Born Aaron Payne, he explains the name change as he episodically accounts for his life as gay man, prostitute, aspiring entertainer. On film Holliday's life story is more patter than coherent narrative, an entertaining collection of riffs edited by Ms. Clarke. The result is not far removed from a standup routine by Holliday's contemporary Lenny Bruce, already dead a year before the movie's release date. Keeping the camera on one guy alone for nearly two hours may tear a page or two from some movie-making rule book. And yet, although "Portrait of Jason" verges on the avant garde, I experienced the film as something primordial, with Jason's life story as ancient as the Satyricon of Petronius, as familiar as the biography of Lazarillo de Tomes.

"Portrait of Jason" is more than a lesson in literary history. The film manages to show the audience a life, a real person, an amusing character. If some especially talented actors can indeed hold audience interest even when reading the phone book, Holliday proved that he can keep us interested after Shirley Clarke merely(!) rolls twelve hours of film and sound on him. Holliday had been there all along, really. As Ms. Clarke's arresting (and, I imagine, often arrested) subject, he seems to have been shooting and simultaneously watching his own self-created movie long before Ms. Clarke trained her lens and microphone on him.

I had never heard of this movie before I decided to take a look the other night. I found myself laughing at the guy's stories before the ten minute mark. I saw the movie again to be sure I hadn't been as drunk watching as Holliday was talking. Again I laughed and laughed some more.

My only objection on the second go-round was the off-camera baiting that took place toward the end of the film. If Holliday needed prodding to continue with his monologue as fatigue and inebriation evidently increased, that sort of thing is best left on the cutting room floor. At least this documentary film seems to have had its own fourth wall that belonged intact.

Still, you have to admire the gifted filmmaker who let us behold a man exercising his God-given right to take a Holliday from Payne!

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Release Date:

29 September 1967 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Portrait of Jason See more »

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