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When Shirley Clarke made PORTRAIT OF JASON, she was doing more than exercising her creative impulse. The Oscar™-winning director had been all but shut out of Hollywood, and returned to New York to pursue a career as an indie filmmaker rather than deal with being marginalized by the mainstream. Her intense, bombastic, intimate, and visceral documentary featuring a free-form monologue by Jason Holliday is a classic, not just of cinema-verité, but of world cinema as a whole, and a damning indictment of racism and homophobia.
Stephen Winter did many thing in preparation for directing JASON AND SHIRLEY, his speculative film about the 10 lost hours of footage Shirley Clarke filmed while making her groundbreaking documentary about the entertainer, hustler, and streetwise philosopher. One of the most interesting was the choice of films he watched for inspiration, both starring Anthony Perkins, and both filmed in black and white. Hitchcock’s PSYCHO for the intensity, of course, and Orson Welles THE TRIAL for the queer lushness. We talked about that towards the end of our conversation, and Winters gifted us all with a dazzling deconstruction of those films that knocked me out.
Before then, though, he discussed his first experience of watching JASON AND SHIRLEY, its place in cinema history, the LGBT closet that was still in place in the 1990s when he arrived in New York City, and what happens when people marginalized by society are pitted against one another while also collaborating. That’s when the word “ruthless” came up, and his definition of that as it applied to the relationship between actor and director is another deconstruction well worth hearing.
I also asked Winters to talk about one of the other characters in the film, actor Carl Lee, whose time never quite came outside of the New York theatrical world, and why that was a loss for us all.
JASON AND SHIRLEY is a film about honesty, ambition, and the ruthlessness of both. Using Shirley Clarke’s startling, classic cinema-verité documentary from 1966, PORTRAIT OF JASON, Winters re-imagines the 10 hours of footage from film’s 12-hour marathon of a shoot not included in the final cut, giving context to the finished film, and creating a portrait of who Clarke and her subject — entertainer, philosopher, hustler and junkie — Jason Holliday really were. The result is a prècis not only of these two people, an Oscar™-winning female director, and a gay black man, who have been marginalized by society, but also of the intersection of their dreams of making their mark in a world that would prefer to ignore them. Winter’s film defines the necessity of art, and the obsession of those whose lives are dedicated to creating it. The film stars Jack Waters as Jason and Sarah Shulman as Shirley, as well as Orran Farmer as actor Carl Lee. Winter directed from a script on which he collaborated with Waters and Shulman.