This piece was written for MIAS 210: Ethics of Preservation & Restoration, taught by Michael Pogorzelski for the Moving Image Archive Studies Program at UCLA during the Fall of 2012. Within this seminar we looked critically at the methods and procedures that the professional moving image archiving world has been utilizing for restoration and preservation from its outset to current date. By combining textual works of Janna Jones and Caroline Frick as well as weekly screenings of restored 35mm works with in-person industry guests, we were given a much richer sense of what preservation and restoration truly entails. Pogorzelski’s structure of provoking discussion within the classroom in tandem with open screenings not only seemed to promote the richness of theatrical exhibition but also expanded moving image archiving education to the public. Our own experience was enhanced by sharing the space with the general public as much as their experience was enhanced by being there to hear our MIAS-trained questions during the Q&A period where we were asked to be the first to ask questions. For my class project, I wished to look into areas of gender and independent cinema works. My interest in Shirley Clarke was peaked due to a feature I had seen at the New Beverly and Mike Pogorzelski assisted me in setting up a few meetings with Joe Lindner at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Access to the primary restoration specialist allowed me to inquire about many technical questions that I had not gotten answered by the literature I had read thus far, either in the MIAS program. In addition, I was invited to ModernVideofilm to watch them look at some of the very first finished digitally restored work. Again, I had access to professionally trained individuals who were kind enough to answer my questions. Through my status as the AMIA Student Chapter President, I was able to contact Dennis Doros and ask him if he had time to meet with me at the Annual Conference in Seattle. My experience in the seminar had been that preservation and restoration work itself required as much direct contact with the materials and knowledge of the work as possible, so that was my intent with this paper. I was able to speak with Dennis and have that as a very central aspect of the larger body. His assistance was integral. As Bob O’Neil from Universal noted during his visit with us, the job he does is not a “one person” job. He stated that it is a very communally worked career that depends on help from many people. As I delved into the restoration of Portrait of Jason (which eventually led me to the other restoration papers), it was crystal clear that my position in the MIAS program and connections from this internal space were a large portion of why and how I was able to get so far and learn so much on this top.
Interviewer: Is the end of the world coming?
Shirley: No, no. A new world is coming. The end of this world is coming. But a new world is going to be there. In other words, I don’t think we believe any longer in the holocaust that will destroy humanity but in the destruction that will recreate humanity.
There is a beautiful sequence near the end of Rome Is Burning (Portrait of Shirley Clarke) (Noel Burch, André S. Labarthe, 1970) where Shirley Clarke is discussing her film Portrait of Jason (1967) and its central character, Jason Holliday. She mentions to Yoko Ono, who happens to be sitting a few seats over that Jason’s identity as an African-American man mirrors the current status of women in society and the struggles and hardships being faced. Yoko Ono murmurs in soft agreement, at which point Clarke suddenly asks, “Are we filming? Can I see the camera please?” The camera is handed to her, and the remainder of the documentary shifts focus, both literally and figuratively. While the time left in the piece is minimal, it also is clear that Shirley would rather change the subject at this point and even if that is not her main intention, what is undeniable is that she cannot keep her hands off of the film apparatus. Shirley Clarke simply can’t keep away from film. To make an analogy, this scene is much like the kind of reel “changeover” in a projection booth, as we flip from the perspective of the documentarians to her own viewpoint as a filmmaker.
Clarke’s demand to see the camera at this stage is not peculiar: it follows her distinctive personality and, more importantly, it highlights her keen sense of the filmic moment and its relation to other people, places and social environments. Clarke had a great concern in her work with the experience of time, so the sudden camera “snatch” certainly related to her interest in that area. Shirley Clarke may have not been born directly into the film world, she most definitely grew into it and developed the landscape to fit her in such a way that, had she not existed, avant-garde filmmaking would have been a much lesser place. While rejecting the title of “underground artist,” Clarke took her membership and co-foundation of the Film-Maker’s Cooperative in New York (which she just called “the Co-op”) quite seriously and extended her work there as far as could through the years. (Clarke 1970) Clarke began her professional life as a dancer, but her career as a visual architect is what garnered her the most notice and is still what is getting her attention, many years later. Her importance as a woman in the art cinema movement, what she would call an “independent filmmaker,” and a social commentator maintains relevance in a way that needs to be accessed by all manners of audiences, from scholars to theatrical distribution.
While the primary focus of this paper is the recent restoration work on Clarke’s Portrait of Jason (1967), we would be remiss if we did not discuss the importance of Shirley Clarke’s work on the whole and why companies like Milestone Pictures have made it a point to flag her collection for preservation, restoration and theatrical distribution (or re-distribution, as it were, since a few of these works had been released in theaters upon their initial creation). While the avant-garde and underground cinema scene in New York has been widely lauded as crucial to cinema studies and the art world at large, it is significantly lacking in one area: women. While the average film studies student can generally name one or two figures/organizations central to the birth of art film- Anthology Film Archives, Jonas Mekas, or Stan Brakhage, for example- it is the rare individual who locates Maya Deren, Shirley Clarke or Chantel Akerman in the mix.
The phallocentrism that women like Akerman, Clarke and Deren experienced, something that has been endemic to the film industry practically since its inception, has now presented itself to companies like Milestone Film and Video as something ready for modification. Any restoration or preservation of the work of these “invisible” artists has the capacity to push them forward into a position of power, perhaps in a way that they have never been before. For an artist like Shirley Clarke, this “push” signals a visual power shift for not one but two marginalized groups: women and African-Americans. Not only was Clarke a female filmmaker, but also her content was (more often than not) centered upon people of color. While her career position as an art filmmaker gave her the freedom to do what she wanted, it did not get her the recognition she deserved. It is perhaps the concept of preservation and restoration that will go back and repair that error, just as much as it will repair the elements that are being located for the restorations themselves!
When speaking to Dennis Doros, the co-founder of Milestone Film and Video at the most recent Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) Conference in Seattle, Washington, we spoke about Shirley’s position in the art film world. When I asked him about his choice to restore Shirley Clarke’s work and what the company lovingly calls “Project Shirley,” he remarked that it was because she was a representative of “outsider art films” and that represented a good many of the titles that Milestone generally chooses to work with. (Doros 2012) Indeed, to look at their catalog, countless films stand out matching that description. Film critic David Sterritt commented on this feature when they released Shirley Clarke’s film, The Connection (1961).
Sterritt writes, “And also now what they’re doing with [filmmaker] Lionel Rogosin, who was in some ways a kindred spirit of Shirley Clarke. Bringing these works together and putting them out and making them available in such sensational packages is just such a service.” (Hornaday 2012) These films have not only been released to new audiences, but their restorations have provided them with an entirely new life. Doros and his wife and company co-founder Amy Heller have worked on titles such as the prestigious Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977) and Kent Mackenzie’s rare and highly praised The Exiles (1961), films that not only highlight unorthodox methods of independent filmmaking but represent highly unrecognized communities. In the restorations and re-releases of these titles, the previous media invisibility of these communities become like the deterioration of their elements- a thing of the past.
While film restoration can be controversial in many ways (issues of grain reduction being prime on that list) and expensive, it has become one of the most powerful arenas of the moving image archiving sciences. Not only can it sell more copies of a given DVD/Blu-Ray release when done right (everyone wants the “restored” version! Shiny new nostalgia!), but, in the case of Milestone, it can actually breathe life into previously forgotten artists or film movements, giving them a chance to live again. Milestone is just one example. This is one of the powers of film restoration in general, but Milestone has managed to make it their mission to shine the spotlight on those who may have not gotten a fair shake the first time around.
According to press materials, Project Shirley is a “mission by Milestone to explore the life and work of Shirley Clarke by partnering with archives around the world to bring out the best versions of her films.” (Milestone Film and Video 2012) It is also, as Amy Heller describes it, “a concerted effort to restore and re-release the films of an incredibly talented and largely overlooked pioneer of the American Independent Cinema Movement…Her films range from lyrical (like her early dance films) to profane and transgressive (her debut feature, The Connection), to kaleidoscopic (Ornette: Made In America, and her groundbreaking video experiments), but they are never clichéd or boring.” (Heller, Blog: Restoring A Portrait With Some Help From Our Friends 2012) Project Shirley’s content as it stands is made up of four Clarke features, as well as “more than a dozen of her short films and has gained access to her home movies, letters and files.” (Milestone Film and Video 2012). This collection is formidable and what has been accomplished is nothing to shake a stick at.
This year, Milestone released the restored versions of both The Connection (1961) and Ornette: Made In America (1985). Both received very positive critical feedback. The Connection (1961) was praised for the company’s efforts on the whole, with Anne Hornaday writing, “Milestone is doing such a tremendous service to film culture at large with this.” (Hornaday 2012) In addition, critic Richard Brody from The New Yorker expounded that Ornette “is cause for celebration—both for its value as a movie and for its exploration of Coleman’s art.” (Brody 2012) Hornaday commented further about Clarke that “she really kind of became a pioneer. She just always seemed to be exploring…It does seem like she really was, conceptually and practically, always sort of a little ahead of the curve. Just a little too late to be able to fully benefit from it.” (Hornaday 2012) The critical acclaim was there and the films were strong in their presentation, having been restored and preserved beautifully each in their own separate way.
These film restorations done for Project Shirley were done according to the most specific regulations and care, all with direct approval from Shirley’s daughter, Wendy Clarke, an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right. While many film restorations do not have the luxury of direct resources to contact (in most cases, the filmmakers and their constituents have long passed on) for information and assistance, Milestone had the good fortune of being able to have Wendy’s full support and input on the work that they were doing. In a recent email interview with the author, Wendy wrote, “Project Shirley is a life saver. I have been trying to get my mother’s films distributed and restored for years, so this is a dream come true. I am trusting that the very best people are doing the restorations. I still have concerns that her short films and the Cool World [films that Milestone does not have the rights to yet and are thus not part of Project Shirley as it stands at the present time] have not been restored and are being shown looking horrible.” (W. Clarke 2012)
The Connection (1961) was the first of Clarke’s films to be restored with work done by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. While Milestone was the company that provided the funds for the creation of the new 35mm preservation negative and the 2K digital preservation (assisted by Modern VideoFilm), the other preservation work had been funded by the Film Foundation. Ross Lipman was the main individual working on the visual preservation of the film and had restored the film “from the original 35mm acetate picture and soundtrack negatives and a 35mm composite master positive. Primary source was the original 35mm black and white picture negative donated by Lewis Allen Productions. Due to scratching near the end of the film, an alternate source was a 35mm fine grain master positive loaned by the British Film Institute.” (Milestone Film and Video 2012) The audio work was done by John Polito at Audio Mechanics and Peter Oreckinto at DJ Audio. All of these elements together created a work that was able to show in theaters around the world and will now be distributed in a variety of forms, getting released on DVD this upcoming year.
With The Connection (1961), Milestone provided access to a rare and under-recognized filmmaker’s work in a way that it should be seen. Shirley herself, however, is quoted as saying that the film “looked too slick. I wanted it to look like it would’ve if I had filmed it.” (S. Clarke 1970) and while no restoration in the world can alter the way a film is shot or edited, what the restoration of The Connection (1961) did was piece together the severely damaged bits towards the end and create a whole out of parts. Before 2012, this film had not been seen in such a full and comprehensive state since its birth. The digitization had certainly never been seen. For newcomers to Shirley’s work, this was the perfect way to arrive- had they seen a broken down version, they might not have been interested in the remainder of what was to come in Project Shirley, such as the next feature, Ornette: Made in America (1985).
Much like The Connection (1961), Ornette featured the same cast of restoration “characters.” Ross Lipman at UCLA Film and Television Archive was the preservationist in tandem with audio work done with exquisite care by John Polito at Audio Mechanics, who has worked with Milestone in the past on several films. The film itself was “preserved from the original edited 35mm negative, which incorporates blow ups from a variety of archival sources as well as Shirley Clarke’s and Ed Lachman’s Super 16mm original camera footage.” (Milestone Film and Video 2012) Much like the first chapter in Project Shirley, without this extra care and restorative work, the larger benefit to Clarke’s image as a filmmaker would have suffered. While The Connection (1961)’s primary need was visual restoration, Ornette benefitted greatly from the work of John Polito. As a well-known and respected audio restoration technician, his work on the film shines and, as Shirley herself said about Ornette, it is a very aurally heavy film. She states, “I knew I was connecting to the way he [Ornette Coleman] sounded because the first thing I laid down was the sound…Then I decided what images were going to go with that particular sound. I shot every single piece we used without knowing what I was going to do with it. Having laid the spine down, which was his music, I edited to the music. That’s where the rhythms and energy came from. The film looks like how Ornette sounds and has the same basic thinking.” (Milestone Film and Video 2012)
Since Ornette is a sound-based piece, the restoration of the audio was an essential part and the critical acclaim that it has received since being released in the theaters reflects the hard work that they spent in reviving all aspects of this film, especially since, as Ornette producer Kathelin Hoffman Gray writes, “We used every format—film and video — that had ever been produced in the process of making this film. Doing so, we stretched the boundaries and definitions of filmmaking elements originally committed to.” (Milestone Film and Video 2012) The fact that so many formats were used shows that like the various elements that The Connection (1961) was constructed out of, Ornette’s restoration preserved the visual argument of the film but highlights the sound qualities at the same time. Much like the work on Connection, this was also not an easy task. Restoring a multiplicity of formats could not have been a cakewalk, especially on a film where the goal was to match restored musical rhythms and other specific elements. Clearly, it takes a village to restore a Shirley Clarke film.
While these restorations were expertly done and the arrangements for their distribution were handled with the utmost care, there was an issue with the initial part of Project Shirley: quality preservation and restoration is pricy, and the theatrical releases of these films did not make their money back like Milestone thought that they would. While they did license the films to TCM and to Isabelle Huppert’s husband in France, bringing in a modicum of funding, that was still not enough to repay what had been spent and pay salaries. Milestone, while a small company, has certain ethical regulations. Not only do they want to make their money back for the work that they have done, but also they also actively believe in paying those who do work for them, including their interns. (Heller, Blog: Pay Up! 2012) All of these things cost a fair amount, especially if it involves film restoration by well-known and respected companies.
So what was the next step with Project Shirley? Quitting was not an option, and yet no moving image archivist or company that specializes in materials like Milestone has the ability to go around and continue to keep pouring money into projects that may not see some kind of return. In a restoration project like this, the goal is clearly more than money. There has to be a balance between the objective and keeping food in everyone’s mouths. Dennis Doros stated that when they started to think about the next section of Project Shirley (Portrait of Jason), he “questioned the sanity of doing the exact same thing [financial structure-wise]. We really decided that we needed to go with something new. Portrait of Jason needed something different.” (Doros 2012)
Enter Kickstarter. While there are a variety of organizations that have sprung up in the last few years to assist in financial crowd-sourcing efforts, Kickstarter is probably the most well known and heavily utilized. While not every proposed project gets funded, the site has proven its preservation worth in a variety of different circumstances ranging from the procurement of highly expensive equipment for theaters who need to switch from analogue to digital projection (Lane 2012) to the reissuing of lost gay pulp novels (McDonagh 2012). For Milestone, Kickstarter made a great deal of sense. If they decided to have a Kickstarter campaign for this next project, and it got funded, they would not need to get any bank loans and it would also begin to get Portrait of Jason’s name out there in the virtual world through the social networking function, so it served as a PR service as well.
Dennis and Amy had approached several archives to try to figure out financials on the project, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was interested in working with them, as long as there were other sources of funding. It was then that Kickstarter seemed like a dream come true. They came to terms with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and an agreement was coordinated: one-third would be provided from the funds gotten by Kickstarter, one-third by the Academy, and one-third by Milestone. The Kickstarter had a goal of $25,000 and surpassed it, garnering $26,714 as of December 10, 2012, showing another example of public supported restoration work. In my discussions with Dennis, we spoke of crowdsourcing avenues as one of the primary ways that more projects are turning. While that may/may not end up being the case a few years from now, it certainly worked for Jason!
When Dennis and Amy began the project on Jason they did not know that it was going to be quite as complex as it turned out to be. While Connection and Ornette were fairly simple restorations (as far as restorations go) Jason was a great deal more complicated. In fact, on the Kickstarter account video they compared the Jason story to the legendary tale of the location of a Tod Browning film called The Unknown (1927). Their point, in this analogy, was that the poor film was hidden amongst a collection of film cans labeled “unknown” at the Cinematheque Francais simply due its unfortunate (but appropriate) title. While that was the name of the film, it was also a familiar term for film elements that were considered orphaned (or at least orphaned within that archive)! Pieces that were, quite literally, unknown.
Much like a rose by any other name, sometimes a word in another language reads quite the same even if the referent is entirely different….Years down the line, someone looked into those cans and “found” the Tod Browning print, locating what had never really been lost, simply unwittingly filed poorly and organized according to literal definition and not filmic. The Unknown was considered to be “unknown” until someone physically investigated that set of reels and realized that what was “unknown” was actually The Unknown.
When Milestone began the Jason project, they needed a print to use. They were offered the 35mm from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It had been used as a “restoration negative” according to several DVDs that had been made. However, as Dennis notes in his PowerPoint on the topic, this became a very complicated issue. In his words, when they went to locate the Jason elements, “The Museum of Modern Art agrees to grant access to their 35mm restoration negative. But only if we made from it a 35mm Fine Grain Positive … and then from that we’ll have to make a 35mm Dupe Negative and then 35mm prints theaters plus a high-def digital master … and that’s $75,000+. It’s very nice of them to offer us access, but that’s a LOT of money for us — and before agreeing, we should take the restoration out for a test drive…” (Doros, Where Is Shirley PowerPoint 2012) So, as all good moving image archivists do, the folks at Milestone took MoMA up on their word: they took the restoration out for a test drive. But perhaps not in the way that MoMA had intended: they looked at a British DVD that had been made from the MoMA print. Unfortunately, what they found was less than satisfactory. In Dennis and Amy’s estimation, what they saw on the DVD was a transfer that reflected elements that had five main problems: “1) The contrast seems gray, 2) The picture seems soft, 3) There are missing frames, 4) There are sound glitches, 5) The blacks are ‘blocking.’” (Doros, Where Is Shirley PowerPoint 2012) While these may be amenable on a DVD due to the fact that the standards are less on this format for older or more classic titles (i.e., there is a higher level of “forgivability” in the visual quality and companies generally get away with more and very often have), Milestone was not satisfied with what they were given. Dennis and Amy were quite certain that they would be able to locate a better and more vibrant Jason than what they were being offered, and for a much better deal than $75,000. If Milestone was going to invest large sums of money, it should be in restoring elements where the film would have the potential to be as clear and defined as possible, especially in the black-and-white dimension. So off on the hunt they went.
The above trailer is from the British DVD that was made from the MoMA materials that Dennis and Amy examined and found to be wanting. We can think of it as Portrait of Jason “before.”
While reasonable as an access source and certainly not beyond recognition, the issues that Milestone found with the elements were enough to lead them to seek out other film materials. In circumstances like this, the most useful information is about the background of the film, labs it may have been printed at, areas it may have played in and other “historical” production elements. These details help to track down other aspects so that the restoration professionals can have options on what elements to use to put together the best possible end product.
The search for Portrait of Jason became an incredible task, and the story of locating the elements is no less impressive than the surprise of finding The Unknown in an area reserved for unidentified filmic pieces. What should be recognized is the determination with which Dennis Doros searched to put together the nicest and most complete Jason he could find. Not only is this the story of the difficulty of trying to find and restore a very significant and culturally important piece of cinematic history but also it is the story of restoration and preservation in general. Film archiving and the processes of restoration and preservation in particular are much like archeology: they are all about the process of research and digging. They involves searching; scraping, traveling and tracing a variety of environments perhaps just for one section of the 500-piece puzzle that you are working on. This was the case with Jason. Frustration levels can get intense and it certainly explains why this area of film work is not one that you just “fall into.” This field requires high levels of work, extensive dedication, and does not always provide as much return as you would wish due to chemistry, history and economics (amongst other issues). On the other hand, the returns that do come rushing back to you? Worth every minute, second and instant of the blood, sweat and tears put into each project.
Once Milestone decided that they were not going to use the MoMA print, they started to look for any and all alternative elements. This involved time and research. It is also where the idea of the moving image archiving community comes in. While Dennis and Amy were always in direct contact with Wendy Clarke, Shirley’s daughter, she did not know where all of the elements from her mother’s collection had disappeared to. As an archivist, the initial thing to be done in a case like this, would be to reach out to those you know and access the strong relationships that have been built with other moving image archivists over the years for their assistance. It is entirely possible that one phone call to a friend could find the Droids you’re looking for. Shirley Clarke’s papers and film materials were collected at the Wisconsin Center for Theater and Film Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, so Dennis’ phone call went there. Unfortunately, what turned up, according to Maxine Fleckner Ducey, were simply outtakes of the film and a 16mm print. This was disappointing…or so it seemed.
The chase continued. It was slow and arduous, moving through emails and phone calls to every lab Shirley had worked with regarding Jason to other archives that also possessed papers relating to her work. Milestone investigated the Harry Ransom Humanities Center in Austin, Texas, as their collection included Lewis Allen’s papers, the producer of the first film from Project Shirley, The Connection. Again, relationships play a large part in this project: these papers were falling apart and needed a very delicate investigation, including hazmat suit. This involves time and attention from the archive doing the examination. Milestone received a CD of all the documents free-of-charge from Steve Wilson at Harry Ransom. Once again, this is a perfect example of how the archival community works together not only for smaller projects and companies but to assist friends and colleagues. While a CD of documents may not seem like much, it can make a big difference and, as clichéd as it sounds, it’s the thought that counts.
Unfortunately, the CD doesn’t end up turning up much. They discover some information about French film distribution and Shirley’s work overseas, but that’s about it. At this point Jason hits the eight-month mark, and Milestone is quite frustrated at continual dead-ends. As Dennis remarks, “Thousands of documents have led to hundreds of phone calls and emails and each time hope has been replaced by despair. Or, at least, unhappiness, insomnia and anger…Most archivists I know have a personal connection to their films and it can be very stressful, both physically and emotionally.” (Doros, Where Is Shirley PowerPoint 2012)
Then the “aha!” moment occurs. At one point, Dennis considers the running time of Jason and thinks about it in comparison to the time of the 16mm fine-grain from Wisconsin. The times are quite similar, so Milestone decides to investigate this further. It’s a good thing they did too, because, as Wendy Clarke notes, “It [was] a long difficult search to find the original version of Portrait of Jason and it does seem that it has been in the Wisconsin film archives all along, but mislabeled.” (W. Clarke 2012) Much like the Unknown case study that Milestone had discussed, Jason had been sitting in Wisconsin labeled as outtakes simply due to the fact that the film does not include things like credit sequence (the film didn’t really have one) or the optical effects that Clarke edited into the film later. In fact, as the journey continued, and the research went further, what was discovered was that this 16mm fine grain, discovered at UW Madison was the material used to create the final version.
While discovering that the 16mm fine grain had been used for a test screening, it was less that thrilling to find out that Shirley’s work didn’t stop there. As Dennis writes, “According to the lab bills, I discover[ed] that Shirley did 18 more hours of editing after the MoMA screening. If I’m correct on this material, it means that we have to spend months of editing our fine grain to conform to Shirley’s final version.” (Doros, Where Is Shirley PowerPoint 2012) Milestone had continued to search and poke around due to a variety of issues, continuing to collect more information from UW Madison. One of the more significant aspects that came out of this was the discovery that the sound did not conform to the 16mm fine grain. In terms of the restoration, this now meant that they would have to locate a soundtrack, which, in turn, had the domino effect of making a restoration that might once have had the opportunity to go the photochemical direction into a digital one. Jason has now become a very pricy project.
One of the lucky points in a difficult and time-consuming restoration (finding all the necessary elements to work with took over a year) was that the 16mm fine grain came with original notes from assistant editor, Gloria Hawkins. As Dennis comments, when they returned to the Wisconsin files one more time, “there [were] actual editing notes with footage counts!…It’s pretty incredible to find these notes for an independent film fifty years after its production. And even more unusual, we [found] handwritten notes taped on the 16mm fine grain itself proving what we have is the material they worked on to create the final version! We also [found] Shirley’s original editing notebook through the first rough cut.” (Doros, Where Is Shirley PowerPoint 2012) From here, while it’s not quite as easy, their search doesn’t approach the level of difficulty that it had before. After looking worldwide (quite literally, Milestone searched from Pennsylvania to the Jerusalem Film Festival), they located a 35mm reference print in Sweden at the Svenska Filminstitutet.
When I spoke with Joe Lindner at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences about the restoration of Portrait of Jason, he discussed the Swedish print a little bit and expanded upon the importance of having relationships with other film archives. When I asked him about the numerous elements that he was working with, he mentioned the 16mm fine grain and then discussed the 35mm print that had come from Jon Wengström in Sweden at length. “We’ve worked with him because there’s a number of Swedish nominees, including Ingmar Bergman, and we’ve done collaborative projects,” Lindner said, “We discovered in our vaults, in Hollywood, abandoned material that was the original nitrate cinecolor two-strip of the first feature film ever shot in Sweden in color, which was called Bells in Old Town. The Swedes had preserved that film from nitrate separation masters but they did not have the original. We may have lost the tail of one reel from decomp in the couple of reels of track neg but we repatriated it to them…we have a relationship with them and Jon is a great collaborator so when Dennis wrote to them he replied right away, and said the print is in great condition and was willing to lend it for preservation.” (Lindner 2012)
Lindner keenly observed that while the relationship between Svenska and the Academy assisted in the transitioning of the 35mm print, it is highly likely that Wengström would have lent Jason to Milestone anyway. There is a strong argument here for the extensive commitment to forming stronger and more positive relationships with regional and international archives and companies like Milestone so that the entire film preservation community can work together on projects like Jason in this very manner. Communal relations and a higher degree of communication form stronger levels of trust and increase production value and may, in fact, see the lengthiness of a given restoration shrink (improving the project’s budget since, as we all know, time is money), so long as people agree to work together for a common goal. Once Jason got going, there was no stopping the project. It was the time up until that point that was the real issue.
The above clip is the first restored clip that Milestone released on their Kickstarter account. Not only did this allow all those who had already donated to see the progress that had been made, but it allowed future benefactors to see what was being done. One of the more useful aspects of the crowdsourcing technology for moving image restoration campaigns is that it creates a visual timeline for the project. Not only does that give potential donors/existant donors a feeling of pride at being part of the film’s history itself, it makes them feel as though they are also part of the restoration process. By donating, they too are producing and saving films! And they get to follow along! It is a participatory and engaging technique and can be quite positive.
The Swedish print was the final decision for the missing audio elements, and between that and the 16mm fine grain, they were in business to begin the actual work on the restoration, which they did. All digital work was to be done by Modern VideoFilm, who would do a raw scan and produce an LTO tape library of the DPX files of the initial scan. This was all the raw data that was of the fine grain and 35mm that was not worked on yet. After restoration, there was to also be an LTO tape library of the restored files, at least two DCPs, one 35mm Digital Intermediate, one 35mm optical track negative, and a 35mm answer print for the vault. This is all in addition to the 35mm release print that was to be created. Argue as much as you like about the digital and analogue world, the amount of information being produced for the restoration of Portrait of Jason is inspirational. Milestone spent over a year pushing and searching, finding bits and pieces, quilting together a film that represents as close to what Shirley had intended in the beginning as possible. This could not have been reconstructed without the use of the digital world. That’s simply a fact.
Dennis Doros said that it wasn’t always the restoration that drove him to work towards completing Jason. If they had wanted to, they could have been satisfied with the MoMA print in the beginning, and worked within those confines. But Milestone is not that company and Dennis is not that kind of person. He said that a good portion of Jason was really about the “fun of finding the material that no one else had.” (Doros, Project Shirley and Portrait of Jason Interview 2012) The way he spoke about Jason was with a great deal more cinematic respect and artistic interest. When I inquired about the look of the materials and any decisions that Milestone had to make as far as visuals were concerned, especially since they had the luxury of the digital world, Doros was very clear about that part. “It was never supposed to look good,” he said, “the film has lots of dust and dirt within the materials. But all of those artifacts are in different areas of different materials. It makes it very difficult.” (Doros, Project Shirley and Portrait of Jason Interview 2012) So the elements from 1967 have the dust/dirt particles in different physical areas that the materials from 1980 do, and so forth. Essentially, all of the dust and dirt that appeared was based in the opticals, so they decided to leave the film as is, and do nothing. The amount of money and time that it would have taken to match up each speck of dust and dirt particle is just not worth it on the overall value of a film piece that was designed, by Shirley Clarke herself, to look natural and not as “slick” as The Connection, per se.
As for content, the film is a simple film, and follows one man around the entire time, as he entertains the audience/camera. While some might consider it cinema-verité, there is always a sense that there is a performance going on, even if the performance is part of a non-fiction scenario and the director and the filmic apparatus seems to be as much of an anchor of the story as the alcohol or drugs that the central character is ingesting. The Portrait of Jason looks at Jason Holliday aka Aaron Payne, an African-American gay male hustler in New York City circa 1967. Shot over one night, in one 12-hour period of time, Wendy commented,
This is the film my mother made just before she started to explore video. I think she would have made it in video if she had made it a little later. I remember that she wanted it to feel like it was all shot in sequence and in Real time and that was why she had the sound recording while the film magazines were being changed. Her other films were edited in a much more complex style, as were the camera angles as well, this film does not feel so much choreographed as her others. All her films are dealing with many levels of what is happening and always exploring the medium, historical context, and breaking new ground. My mother produced and funded Portrait of Jason, which gave her total control (her favorite way of working) and she could do with it exactly as she wanted.” (W. Clarke 2012)
The above is the second restored clip released by Milestone for Portrait of Jason.
Shirley Clarke’s own feelings regarding Jason were based upon what she called an “out of focus principle.” Upon being asked if that was an editing device, Clarke deferred, answering, “It was a combination of things. It was to protect the future of the film, in other words to let me cut. Second was to allow me to pick up the rhythms of time…since it was going to be an all-night session but you weren’t going to see a 12-hour film, but a 1 ½ hour film, it was to give that time stretching and going into time.” (S. Clarke 1970) One of the things that made restoration slightly difficult was the optical effects that she had edited in as well as the fade in/out structure used throughout the film. Due to the improvisational nature of Jason, Clarke said that she had a system with the cameraman Jerry that consisted of two signs and two different ways that she would touch him on the shoulder- one would be for fading in, one would be for fading out. In my discussions with Joe Lindner about Jason, we spent a great deal of time talking about the various ways in which the film was restored and rebuilt. Not all of the fades or optical effects were in the 16mm fine grain, and there was paperwork from a company called DuArt that Joe mentioned was quite well-known for its optical effects (Lindner 2012). It turns out that having that Swedish print was a boon for purposes of soundtrack and editing references, but it also assisted in, quite literally, restoring one of the things that Shirley cared the most about- the details of her film editing. For a piece like Jason, which went from 12 hours to 1 ½ hours, her editing had to have been tight. This restoration needed all the elements it got.
In speaking to Wendy Clarke about her mother’s work, I felt it was very important to get a feel about what it was that everyone at all the individual organizations- Milestone, the Academy, Modern VideoFilm, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio and more- had been working towards. While I had a peripheral sense of what Shirley Clarke’s work was like, having seen (and loved) several of her films, it has (obviously) been very difficult to locate a full copy of Portrait of Jason itself to watch. As a film scholar, I dislike and feel quite uncomfortable writing about a film I have not experienced, but I look forward to seeing the restoration when it gets its theatrical release.
Through my email communications with Wendy and the clips that I have been privileged enough to see, I understand why this film is one of Shirley Clarke’s crucial pieces. It is easy to see the importance of The Shirley Project for the history of cinema in general and art film in particular. It has a crucial relationship to women filmmakers and depictions of African-Americans in the cinema. Even more than that, I would argue that Portrait of Jason and its restoration may be one of the most essential of Shirley Clarke’s works due to its relevance to the queer community. Restoring this film to its full potential will not only remove the film’s invisibility, but it will restore it, literally, to prominence as one of the early films of its kind. Portrait of Jason, while an art film, is also a film that deserves recognition for exploring issues in and around race, socio-economic affairs of New York during the late 1960s, and sexuality. Few films of this time explored these issues in such a brutally honest and non-fictional manner. The fact that time, money and energy was spent to make sure that this film remains on the cultural register is a real testament to the energies and beliefs of a company like Milestone who makes it their career to highlight the lives of people living just outside what is considered to be what is “acceptable.”
Additionally, Portrait of Jason is an unfettered example of the dedication and professional teamwork that can happen in order to resuscitate film work that many would not give a second thought to, due to its marginal status. Without the work and help of all the other associated bodies like the Academy, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Modern VideoFilm and the multiplicity of archives, there would have been a Portrait of Jason but not a complete and restored Portrait of Jason. As we move forward into the digital age, it is nice to have the standard “classic” films restored, but it is even more important to have living, breathing documents of someone like Jason Holliday. Because he existed once. And thanks to the work of all of these people, he will continue to do so for a long time into the future, as beautiful and fantastic as ever!
Brody, Richard. “ORNETTE COLEMAN’S BIG ADVENTURE.” The New Yorker, August 29, 2012.
Rome Is Burning (Portrait of Shirley Clarke). Directed by Noel and Labarthe, Andre S. Birch. Performed by Shirley Clarke. 1970.
Clarke, Wendy, interview by Ariel Schudson. Email Interview with Wendy Clarke (December 11, 2012).
Doros, Dennis, interview by Ariel Schudson. Project Shirley and Portrait of Jason Interview (December 8, 2012).
Doros, Dennis. Where Is Shirley PowerPoint. 2012.
Heller, Amy. “Blog: Pay Up!” Milestone Films. May 09, 2012. http://milestonefilms.com/blogs/news/6039314-pay-up (accessed December 12, 2012).
—. “Blog: Restoring A Portrait With Some Help From Our Friends.” Milestone Films. October 13, 2012. http://milestonefilms.com/blogs/news/6711064-restoring-a-portrait-with-some-help-from-our-friends (accessed December 12, 2012).
Hornaday, Ann, Kohn, Eric, and David Sterritt. “Critical Consensus: Ann Hornaday and David Sterritt Discuss Shirley Clarke’s Newly Restored ‘The Connection’.” Indiewire, May 2, 2012: 3.
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Lindner, Joe, interview by Ariel Schudson. Interview with Joe (November 30, 2012).
McDonagh, Maitland. Reissuing Lost Gay Pulp Novels in Retro 2-for-1 Editions. April 15, 2012. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/531327382/reissuing-lost-gay-pulp-novels-in-retro-2-for-1-ed (accessed December 12, 2012).
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