This week’s post is a guest contribution from Alison Lea and she’s chosen to cover one of those films that it’s probably best to know nothing about before seeing. She’s asked me to point out that she’ll be giving some thoughts on what happens during the film, before going on to add some background. Much of this will include spoilers. Be warned.


The film opens in New York slap-bang in the middle of the summer of love but David Holzman shows little interest in the flower power movement. Instead, he’s more concerned with having just lost his job and then received a draft card. Vietnam awaits. Bummer.

This guy is obviously a cinephile. Quad posters of Suspicion and Touch of Evil hang on his walls, he quotes Godard and Trauffaut and compares a neighbour to a character in a Visconti film. You can easily imagine him spending much of his spare time watching filmmakers who rejected the traditional orthodoxy of the Hollywood studio system like Warhol, Jonas Mekas and Jack Smith in small galleries and lofts on the Lower East Side.

Holzman hits on the idea of – you’ve guessed it – creating a diary, but not the kind that Samuel Pepys become famous for. His will be a cinematic journal, shot on his beloved 16mm Éclair camera – he even shows us some relevant pages from the user’s manual – with sound recorded on a Nagra tape recorder via a Lavalier mic. In doing so, he hopes to make sense of his life. ‘Film is truth at 24 frames per second’ after all, as a ‘noted French wit’ once observed.

He drives around his Upper West Side neighbourhood with Booker T and Green Onions blasting out of a tinny transistor along with news reports. There’s a riot going on in nearly Newark, and the Vietnam War is escalating. He ums and ahs as he tells us about his life. Or more accurately, what he wants us to know about his life.

Not everybody is convinced that his visual diary is a good idea. His friend Pepe stands in front of a sloppily painted pop art mural and insists that David’s life will makes a bad movie. He points out that Penny ‘looks like a very bad actress,’ before explaining a truth that everyone should know: ‘You don’t understand the basic principle. As soon as you start filming something, whatever happens in front of the camera is not reality any more. It becomes something else. It becomes a movie.’

Does David heed this advice?

Not a chance.

David Holzmans Diary still

He chats with a sex-crazed transsexual looking for action, includes a long handheld shot of old folks sitting on a park bench in Manhattan’s Verdi Square and records a frame of every show and advert he sees one night, including Batman and Star Trek, both then in their infancy. Covertly he turns his camera on a female neighbour who lives across the street from him.

Further creepy voyeuristic tendencies are revealed when he points his camera on the subway at a young woman. When she gets off the carriage, he does too. And he continues to film as he stalks her on the streets. She hurriedly tries to get away from him but eventually she stops and yells ‘Beat it!’ right in his face.

Not surprisingly, his relationship with Penny deteriorates. Because she is a model, he assumes that she has no right to say no to being filmed by him. She’s annoyed by him incessantly pointing his camera in her direction and tells him so. Later she has a snooze while naked in his apartment, and surreptitiously, he begins shooting her again – the sequence brings to mind Warhol’s Sleep but thankfully is around four hours and twenty minutes shorter. She wakes and reacts angrily.

End of David and Penny. And who can blame her?

David had hoped his project would bring his life into focus but before a week is out he is more confused than ever. Alone and alienated, he is finally reduced to angrily quizzing his camera as if it was human. ‘What do you want with me?’


The author Scott MacDonald has screened David Holzman’s Diary in recent years to film students without any introduction and most apparently assume that Holzman is a real person.

He’s not. As the end credits roll, we see that somebody called L.M. Kit Carson has played the role. And we’re then informed that this fictional tale has been directed. By Jim McBride.

McBride is an fascinating figure of the time. He was a contemporary of Scorsese and De Palma and pally with both. He would go see De Palma’s early experimental shorts like Woton’s Wake from 1962 at NYC’s Cinema 16 (Mission Impossible, it ain’t, incidentally). He studied film at NYU, where he was in the same class as Martin Scorsese. Later, when Scorsese was editing Who’s That Knocking At My Door, McBride was spending hour upon hour in an editing suite next door to him, working on David Holzman’s Diary. Michael Wadleigh helped out on cinematography duties on both films.

L.M. Kit Carson puts in a completely believable performance here as the insecure, self-absorbed and ultimately pathetic young man and the diary certainly feels authentic. When Holzman is drunk and gabbering on about at Penny (Eileen Dietz) it’s easy to believe that he’s just drank a six-pack of Bud. When he buys a new fish-eye lens, his enthusiasm shines through as he demonstrates how it makes his world look.

I would have thought Carson might have gone on to a very solid acting career, maybe like a young actor who appeared in some Brian De Palma low budget films of the time like Greetings called Robert De Niro, or Harvey Keital, who had been given a lead role in Who’s That Knocking in 1967.

Instead he’ll likely be best remembered for his screenplays. He shared a writing credit with McBride on the director’s 1983 loose remake of Godard’s Breathless and also co-wrote Paris, Texas with Sam Shepard, before gaining a solo credit on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I think he’s better with a writing partner, judging by that script.

McBride himself went on to direct a good few more films. Unlike Scorsese and De Palma, he never achieved any massive box-office successes but along with Breathless, he also impressed with 1986’s The Big Easy with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin, and his Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire from 1989. His groundbreaking and still influential debut, made on a budget of around only $2,500, might just be his finest moment, though.

Years later, he did attempt to get a sequel off the ground – The Return of David Holzman being his favoured title – but, sadly, this was not to be.

Today, fake and real-or-not-umentaries like Exit Through the Gift Shop and Catfish are more common than ever. The term ‘catfish’ even entered the lexicon of pop culture speak after that documentary made a splash in 2010 and helped draw attention to the fact that there are now thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, forums and elsewhere online pretending, sometimes convincingly, to be someone or something they’re not. It’s even the name too of an MTV ‘Reality TV’ show but we all know how real those are, don’t we?

McBride’s debunking of the supposed truthfulness of cinéma vérité is currently available to see on YouTube, along with many hoax videos, possible hoax videos and vloggers whose self-representations really shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value.

Interestingly, as I performed some research on the director, I came across someone who in the comments box of a post about him, asked if anybody knew how McBride could be contacted. And McBride himself replied, freely making his email address available for the interested party, or anybody else reading his comment, to get in touch.

Or was this the ‘real’ Jim McBride?