Jason and Shirley Screens in Support of LA Outsider Art Gallery & Cinema

Jason and Shirley, writer-director Stephen Winter’s sublime imagining of the backstory and behind-the-scenes tumult of director Shirley Clarke’s classic (and deeply flawed) 1967 documentary Portrait of Jason, is screening tonight and tomorrow afternoon at Joy Factory Gallery/Cinema in Santa Monica, California. Bobbi Thompson, founder of the non-profit visual arts, describes the venue as, “a Warhol inspired arthouse cinemas, studio and galleries space.”

Jason and Shirley had a sold-out weeklong run at MOMA in New York in October and won acclaim on this year’s film festival circuit, but hasn’t yet had a theatrical release. This weekend’s two screenings are a rare opportunity to catch it. A sharp, funny and provocative meditation on the making of Portrait of Jason, whose subject Jason Holiday is one of the most complex black, queer, black/queer figures ever filmed, Jason and Shirley attempts to unravel the tensions that pulse through the original film. Portrait is often hostile to its subject, and leaves crucial questions unasked. Winters’ moving film, while filled with humor both dry and laugh-out-loud funny, pushes the audience to think deeply about tough questions about art, art making, race, gender, sexuality, and class. It gives Holiday depth, nuance, history and a staggering inner-life. Or maybe it simply acknowledges all that. It’s tailor-made for this cultural moment in which questions about cultural appropriation rage, and the well of black queer aesthetics is being drained to feed the mainstream.

Jack Waters as Jason Holiday. Still from Jason and Shirley

Jack Waters’ performance as Jason, a self-described “hustler” who dreams of being a cabaret star, is searing. As the evening of the filming unfolds, Waters effortlessly surfs Jason’s mercurial moods, his brilliance, sadness, and wily self-awareness of giving both Clark and the mainstream/self-deluded hip audience the expected performance of “realness.” All the while he nimbly deflates, defies, and upends stereotypes. Playwright/cultural critic/author/professor Sarah Schulman’s take on Clarke is tough-minded but witty, foregoing easy reverence to show a woman who is complicated and driven, and not without crucial blind spots.  Both performers are helped by an astute script that melds documentarian grittiness with flights into the surreal and imagined, all in the pursuit of truths larger than what history has recorded.

Scholar and cultural critic Tavia Nyong’o did a definitive write-up of Jason and Shirley for the Guardian earlier this year that can be found here.

Joy Factory’s schedule for the weekend is as follows: Tonight, from 6-8 PM, the gallery hosts the group show Brain States, featuring the work of ECF ARTS, Little City Arts and Project Onward. There is limited seating for the 8 PM screening of Jason and Shirley, and that will be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Stephen Winter and Prof. Alexandra Juhasz.  Tomorrow, Sunday, December 6th, the gallery is open from 11:30 AM – 5:30 PM, and there will be a 2 PM screening of Jason and Shirley.

For more information on Joy Factory Gallery/Cinema, go here.

For more information on Jason and Shirley, go here.