The allure of Jim McBride's secret comedy is now wholly different from the mystique that first charmed its nervously giggling audiences. Originally, the spirit was film-school sarcastic (a radical thing in 1967): McBride, an NYU contemporary of Martin Scorsese, loaded his script with digs at pretentious cinegeeks. David (Carson), our camera-obsessed self-documenter, is the kind of guy who drops casual references to Godard and Visconti. He drives his model girlfriend, Penny (Dietz), out of his life by ceaselessly filming her; we're watching his "diary," a scattershot affair. Other friends show up mainly to tell him how boring his movie will be. The target was navel gazing.
Now everyone's a David Holzman, broadcasting their lives without the benefit of McBride's air of critique. The movie feels like the ur-text of so much: mockumentaries, Twitter, reality TV and the cult of the YouTube auteur. Perhaps more lastingly, though, David Holzman's Diary has become the very object it was parodying: a lovely piece of vrit, one that captures the late-'60s Upper West Side in all its grimy glory. Cops, neighbors, car horns, sass---all of it survives in a record of one filmmaker's creative breakthrough and the urban metropolis that inspired it. Essential.