It was quite a big deal to me and all the other film geeks I know that a few years ago, cystitis the Blue Underground DVD label released a special edition version of David Cronenberg’s 1978 car-racing drama “Fast Company” which also included on a separate disc his first two feature films, cure “Stereo” and “Crimes of the Future”, ampoule which up until had never been available on DVD or VHS (”Crimes” actually had been included on the Criterion Collection laserdisc of “Dead Ringers”, but how many people could actually afford the ridiculous prices those players and discs cost way back when?).

The two films, while short on narrative, both bear the unmistakable Cronenberg stylistic stamp: body horror, vaguely “official” ficitional clinics, and a certain brand hazy dream logic that is unique to the man’s work; “Stereo” just might be my favorite film in the Cronenberg canon altogether. Both films have no spoken dialogue from the characters: “Stereo” features just voiceovers from several different omniscient narrators, while “Crimes” intersperses narration snippets with some electronic knob-twiddling and ambient sound effects. In each case, the narration is filled to the brim with pseudo-scientific jargon and detached delivery.

Recently, I was able to grab the audio tracks from the two films and make MP3s out of them. While the films both run about 65 minutes each, I’ve condensed the audio tracks to about half that length, because both films feature extended periods of silence inbetween the narration, as a stylistic choice.

David Cronenberg – “Stereo” (1969, audio track)
David Cronenberg – “Crimes of the Future” (1970, audio track)


Tom Sutpin, health system
writing in the Bright Lights Film Journal, abortion

“Portrait of Jason”, for those like me who weren’t around back in ’67 for the halcyon days of the New American Cinema, is a black-and-white, 16mm, 105-minute film wherein a bespectacled, aging African-American hustler, looking dapper in a white shirt and blue blazer, rehearses his life, times, ambitions, and philosophies of livin’ before a single camera that does its best to keep up with him and often succeeds quite beautifully (Jason’s rap does occasionally exceed the amount of film in the camera, causing a blank screen from time to time). It’s been described as so many things through the years that one possible explanation for the persistent unavailability — except for a rare, out-of-print VHS tape from Mystic Fire Video — of a film so exceptional has been its unusual way of eluding all categorization. It isn’t a documentary, really; it isn’t even a “cinema verite” exercise (it’s been referred to as both repeatedly, in some instances by critics who are halfway perceptive).

Many of the newspaper and magazine reviewers who covered it during its initial run wrote it off as yet another low-budget Underground freak show, the kind of movie Andy Warhol and Jack Smith and the Kuchar brothers might have conjured if they’d all somehow hooked up at the right time (a prospect as forbidding as it is intriguing). “Portrait of Jason” isn’t really an interview either, since the closest thing to a coherent question throughout is Carl Lee’s repeated prodding of Jason from just off-camera (”Hey, Jason . . . tell the Cop story”; “Talk about Brother Tough”). Waxing poetic, Clarke’s Film-makers’ Cooperative confrere Storm de Hirsch called it a “bold, incisive choreography, a dance of the human ego in all its ugly, beautiful nakedness”; Ingmar Bergman simply said it was the most fascinating movie he’d ever seen (Bergman, of course, was checking in from Sweden, where black homosexual male prostitutes with a compulsive showbiz bent have never exactly been . . . underfoot).

“Portrait of Jason” is anything we can give a name to, it is a record of a performance, a performance ably assisted by a filmmaker who most assuredly knew what, and who, she was filming.

As a performer in his own Portrait, Jason Holiday is prodigious, altogether tireless. Despite his ironic refrain of “I’ll never tell,” the only evident limits on what he’s willing to recount are fixed on how much anyone wants to listen. There’s his years of playing Houseboy to wealthy, dysfunctional white couples on Nob Hill in San Francisco, for instance. Or his other, more durable vocation as a male trollop, a “stone whore,” in his words, “balling my way from Maine to Mexico, and I ain’t gotta dollar to show for it.” There’s his turbulent childhood as Aaron Payne, an almost militant sissy living in the same house with a father who was anything but. And, of course, there’s that nightclub act. All of it is baseline raw material for the film, and he knows it.

After 105 minutes (out of nearly 12 hours filming) that sees him consuming virtually an entire quart of vodka — not to mention a joint the size of a Magic Marker — Jason never ceases to act out his life for Shirley Clarke. Sure, the booze and the weed might slow him down a little bit, help shift the act into a minor key, but his capacity for self-dramatization never lags, and the spirit with which he acts it out for the camera — whether he’s raging or crying or brutally indicting himself for an evil-minded, mendacious fraud — only intensifies as the film runs through the camera. It would be baldly, cruelly inexact and easy to dismiss Jason as a benchmark drama queen as some did at the time, or a haunted, tragic figure symbolic of . . . everything. In the first place, drama queens are rarely this compelling. What’s more, Jason is far too intelligent and too keenly awake to the absurdities in his life for his moments of excessive self-loathing to be anything more than another emotional hue on his palette, let alone the remnant of a wholly uncommon tragedy. In a very narrow sense, one could say his entire life has been one glorious hustle, a performance for the ages in which he takes a justifiable pride and finds a twisted but no less deserved dignity. He’s his own living, breathing club date.

Going on stage, while it could have put some much-needed bread in his pocket, would’ve been awfully redundant.

The film was re-released on DVD in the U.K. in 2005. Here’s the audio track from the film in its entirety, which works remarkably well like a good episode of “This American Life” would.

Shirley Clarke – “Portrait of Jason” (1967, audio track)


For a seven-month run (June ‘06-January ‘07), ampoule
Egg City Radio friend Nate Thompson did a great, great soundtrack blog called 7 Black Notes. At the end of the seven months, Nate grew tired of Rapidshare deleting everything he’d posted, so he gave up the ghost, but this three-disc Italian exploitation film soundtrack collection he made especially for his blog is too good to let fade away into the ether. Nate sez:

“Given the huge amount of great film music never commerically released in any format, I decided to cut together a series of suites of some outstanding titles that deserved some notice; here the spotlight turns on some of the great (well, in most cases) Italian composers whose work has often never gotten the credit it deserves. Taken from a variety of sources (video, M&E tracks, or whatever’s handy), these have been tweaked to sound as good as I can make ‘em; hopefully you’ll discover a few new gems in this three-part collection, entitled ‘Italian Blend’. Running times have also been included to give you an idea of how much music to expect.”

Italian Blend: Volume One

1. The Witches (Piero Piccioni) (10:41)

2. Images In A Convent (Nico Fidenco) (9:04)

3. Baba Yaga (Piero Umiliani) (2:16)

4. A Virgin Among The Living Dead (Bruno Nicolai) (12:42)

5. Queens Of Evil (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino) (9:34)

6. Knife Of Ice (Marcello Giombini) (2:56)

7. Burial Ground (Elsio Macuso & Burt Rexon) (3:00)

8. Death Smiles At Murder (Berto Pisano) (7:02)

9. A Blade In The Dark (Guido & Maurizio De Angelis) (5:26)

10. Beast With A Gun (Umberto Saila) (4:15)

11. Plot Of Fear (Daniele Patucchi) (2:59)

12. The Great Alligator (Stelvio Cipriani) (4:11)

13. Do You Like Hitchcock? (Pino Donaggio) (3:26)

Italian Blend: Volume Two

1. Eugenie De Sade (Bruno Nicolai) (8:27)

2. Footprints (Nicola Piovani) (8:51)

3. 2019: After The Fall Of New York (Guido & Maurizio De Angelis) (3:55)

4. A Whisper In The Dark (Pino Donaggio) (13:41)

5. Yellow Emanuelle (Nico Fidenco) (8:30)

6. Waves Of Lust (Marcello Giombini) (2:05)

7. Orgasmo Nero (Stelvio Cipriani) (15:42)

8. Caligula: The Untold Story (Claudio Maria Cordio) (2:08)

9. Patrick Still Lives (Berto Pisano) (2:37)

10. The Man From Deep River (Daniele Patucchi) (5:35)

11. Zeder (Riz Ortolani) (1:30)

12. Body Count (Claudio Simonetti) (1:57)

Italian Blend: Volume Three

1. Suspected Death Of A Minor (Luciano Michellini) (8:30)

2. House On The Edge Of The Park (Riz Ortolani) (4:06)

3. Strip Nude For Your Killer (Berto Pisano) (6:04)

4. The Pyjama Girl Case (Riz Ortolani) (7:18)

5. Nightmares Come At Night (Bruno Nicolai) (9:35)

6. The Lickerish Quartet (Stelvio Cipriani) (11:45)

7. Porno Holocaust (Nico Fidenco) (22:13)

8. Porno Shop On 7th Street (Bruno Biriaco) (9:27)

9. The Big Racket (Guido & Maurizio De Angelis) (6:11)

Various Artists – “Italian Blend, Vol. 1 (ZIP file)
Various Artists – “Italian Blend, Vol. 2 (ZIP file)
Various Artists – “Italian Blend, Vol. 3 (ZIP file)

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