“I’ve spent so much of my life being sexy that I haven’t gotten anything else done. I’ve been balling from Maine to Mexico. I haven’t a dime to show for it, but I had a swell time.”
For the hour and forty five minutes that Jason Holliday/Aaron Payne is on screen he performs an entire life to us. He becomes once more the hustler, cabaret singer, domestic worker, and sex worker of his past, and reveals himself as an astute social commentator and greatest of all, a truly captivating storyteller. We become completely immersed in the world of queer New York he inhabits in the late 1960s. Jason’s narrative is peppered with anecdotes of the shocking racism he experienced as a black, gay man and even episodes of incarceration which are all told alongside his riotous impressions of Katherine Hepburn and his star-studded anecdotes, perhaps the best loved of these the one featuring Miles Davis.
It is the bold method of director Shirley Clarke which leads to this diverse human revelation. The feature was filmed over the course of one evening in Jason’s hotel room and gives the distinct impression of being edited live by Clarke. As Jason drinks more and is goaded by Clarke, the audience is left to question not only his stability and the veracity of what he is saying, but the ethics of what Clarke is doing here. A chance to tell his story as he takes to the stage of his suite seems at first a portrayal on his own terms, but Jason remains the sitter in Clarke’s portrait. Her voice is certainly an intrusive one and as she coaxes more and more from him the film becomes intensely uncomfortable to watch and takes on an exploitative and far darker edge. The audience is left to question the reality of Jason’s performance, the ethics of Clarke’s, but never the power of the film.
Portrait of Jason is showing free at St Catz at 8pm on Tuesday of 4th Week. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion.