‘Portrait of Jason’ gets a beautiful new restoration

Jason Holliday is the only star of the 1967 film "Portrait of Jason," presented in a new restoration. Credit: Milestone Films
Jason Holliday is the only star of the 1967 film “Portrait of Jason,” presented in a new restoration.
Credit: Milestone Films

On December 3, 1966, filmmaker Shirley Clarke and a modest crew crammed into her two-room apartment in the Chelsea Hotel. For twelve hours they filmed one Jason Holliday, an openly gay black cabaret performer in his early 40s (though he claimed he was thirtysomething). Holliday regaled them with stories from his life — of being harassed by the cops, of being a houseboy for racist whites. His stories are by turns amusing and horrific, peppered with his incessant giggling, as though he was trying to not to cry. (Though he sometimes came close.)

Today, “Portrait of Jason” offers a piercing look at sexual and racial relations before Stonewall — if you’ve been able to see it. And that hasn’t been easy. “Jason” was available on DVD in the U.K., but from a transfer off a faded, dim fifth generation print. The team at Milestone Films — who’ve previously released Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” and “I Am Cuba,” among many others — spent four years tracking down materials for a new restoration.

Traditionally, the money for restorations has come from a combination of Milestone and the archives they work with. But times have changed. Film labs are closing, and the DVD market has dwindled. Amy Heller and Dennis Doros, who run Milestone, had to turn to Kickstarter last fall to pay for the last leg of the restoration.

“It’s a scary thing to do,” says Heller of the Kickstarter campaign, which was successful in just under 60 days, “especially at a moment when you don’t know what the technology will be when you finish.” Many theaters are abandoning film for digital projection. “Jason” still has some 35mm film prints for screening. And it’s not a good idea to abandon celluloid completely.

“Digital restorations are not archival,” says Heller. “If you restore digitally, you’re going to have a digital file. That could be degraded. It may not even be readable at some point down the road.” Technology changes quickly, and a file made today may not have a program that could read it in the future — even the near future. But for film, all you need is a working projector. “It was important for us to get the film exported to 35mm. That way people will be able to go back and transfer it to the best technology of the future.”

Digital restoration has its issues, too. “The real challenge is to make it look like film,” says Doros. “You don’t want it too clean. You don’t want to remove the grain.” He says a lot of restoration artists wind up cleaning up the grain, in part because it’s a different shape than a pixel: grain are little dots, whereas pixels are square. “It’s a little harder to keep the grain in, but it’s not difficult.”

Also important was trying to respect the look Clarke was going for. “I don’t want to say something corny, like we were channeling her spirit,” Heller says. But they wanted to keep it as Clarke would have wanted. “Shirley wanted it to look rough. That’s why it looks like outtakes.” They had Clarke’s daughter Wendy, who was close to the production, on hand to ensure they didn’t make it look too “good.”

“Portrait of Jason,” which will run theatrically at IFC Center, is still thrillingly intimate, both of a person and an era when homosexuality was illegal. (Anti-sodmoy laws were still on the New York books till 1983.) “It was repressive of the whole culture,” Heller says. “How do you mee other people if you can’t go anywhere and be yourself? There were so many oppressions against the day-to-day life of a guy like Jason.”


'Barack Obama cheats on Michelle' claims Japanese politician…

A senior Japanese politician has marred Barack Obama's official visit to Tokyo with bizarre claims that the President cheats on his wife Michelle. Kazuyuki Hamada,…


British Royal family devastated by freak NY death…

The British royals have been left devastated by the death of Mark Shand, younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, after a freak fall in…


VIDEO: Police seek suspect in molotov cocktail attack…

Police released surveillance video on Wednesday in hopes of tracking down a man who threw a molotov cocktail inside a Brooklyn corner store.


City Council budget asks for 1,000 additional NYPD…

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled the City Council's budget priorities on Wednesday, including the extra cops for the NYPD at a cost of $94.3 million.


‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 9

It was only an hour-long episode, but there's a lot to cover this week. The drama of Survivor strikes again as the identity of the…


TV watch list, Wednesday, April 23: 'Suburgatory,' 'Modern…

'Suburgatory' The men of "Suburgatory" go camping and Tessa mentors a social outcast in a Miss Chatswin contest, which brings her, once again, into conflict…

The Word

The best lines from Oprah's ex-stepmother's Daily Mail…

Oprah’s ex-stepmother, Barbara Winfrey, is out for revenge.


A debut novel about fate, love and moving…

Pia Padukone talks about her debut novel, "Where Earth Meets Water."


2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version


Giants 2014 regular season schedule

The Giants will play five prime-time games — against the Lions, Redskins, Eagles, Colts and Cowboys.


Jets 2014 regular season schedule

The Jets will play three prime-time games — against the Bears, Patriots and Dolphins — as well as a CBS national game in Week 2 at Green Bay.


Phil Jackson talked to Steve Kerr, pushes for…

Knicks president Phil Jackson spoke to the media for the first time since firing head coach Mike Woodson on Monday.


Pippa Middleton's Etsy pick: Golden Thread Jewelry

Get a look at the jewelry Pippa Middleton loves and find out how you can buy it too.


What every parent needs to know to get…

Mom and author of "Small Talk," Tracey Blake, shares her five practical tips to help you develop your children's language skills.


Subway crush: Meet your soulmate on your commute

Read about a couple who has been 40 years after meeting on the train.


Happy birthday, Game Boy! The handheld console turns…

Nintendo's Game Boy turns 25 this week. To commemorate, we look at some of its better games, like "Tetris" and "The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening."