Netflix’s Instant Streaming site has a page for each film they have available, and it was through this page for David Holzman’s Diary that I gained an expectation that the film would be a masterpiece of some untold quality. Of course, scrolling down, some of the more dissatisfied reviews were displayed under the “Most Recent” tag, but I was prepared to dismiss them as easily as I had in the past for other 1001 films I had used the service to see. Now, however, having sat through the 74-minute film, feeling like I spent at least an hour and a half on it, I’m not sure what to think. Really; I have no idea what to make of David Holzman’s Diary. The only thing I can manage to scrounge together in my head is the thought that I didn’t much care for it. I understand why it was made, and even why it was influential, but it just wasn’t for me.
David Holzman is a fictional person, a filmmaker, who decides to make a film about his life, and thus be a progenitor to the concept of a “diary film”. What he doesn’t realize is how his quest to make a film about himself, in all aspects and areas, will end up alienating him from all who interact with him, including his model girlfriend. That’s about all there is as to a plot; as you can tell, there isn’t much, and thus the film’s short running time becomes less of a mystery. The film itself mostly consists of David narrating events in his life, and alternating between that and footage he tries to capture of those around him, who usually don’t take to being on camera all that kindly, and thus leave David to close the gaps in the narrative through even more narration. What this really is, however, is basically a film about the nothing life of a nobody, which would be sad except that this is a fictional film, written by the director Jim McBride, and thus there is a purpose behind why he has decided to write this story and present it to us in the way he does. Frankly, McBride ends up digging a little too deep into the material, in a way that I found to be like an archaeologist or treasure hunter desperately clawing at the earth beneath them, trying SO HARD to find something, ANYTHING, that will make their efforts at least a little validated, and coming up with nothing every time. For example, there’s an extended sequence, a good ways into the film, where David turns the camera and mic on, and then proceeds to sit down, drink, and say nothing, except small spurts of complaints that he has nothing to say, and how his film was supposed to be about… things, which is the actual word he uses. Basically, I ran into the same problem with this one as the last film I watched; it basically has nothing to say, but chooses to commit to celluloid the events anyway, surmising that this is somehow entertaining or evocative of something. There was a slight underpinning of McBride writing and filming these sequences as a sort of point-and-laugh exercise to others that have done similar things, but McBride doesn’t manage to transcend these other people and what they do through what he does; he only manages to make another example of what he is trying to make fun of. When the satire itself has no substance to it, can it really properly satirize the subject it is focusing on? David Holzman’s Diary ultimately proves that, no, it cannot.
I am ultimately glad of one thing, and it is something that is resoundingly depressing when put in context with watching the film; I was glad it was so short, because that meant that it was over quicker. I just wanted to put this one behind me and move on to something more worth my time, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to do that now that I’ve finished watching it. This is one that is hard to recommend, not only because I didn’t like it; I have a hard time coming up with a demographic that I can solidly say would enjoy this, even for a scant 74 minutes. If you want to give it a try, and end up really enjoying it, well, good for you. But I didn’t.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10