I first heard of Ed Pincus’ Diaries (1971-1976) when I was a grad student at UCLA Film School. Jim Lane, a Ph.D student who later went on to write The Autobiographical Documentary in America, had put together a screening series of autobiographical films and told me I absolutely had to see Diaries. Jim had gone to Harvard as an undergrad and, while there, had studied with Ross McElwee who had been a big influence on Jim’s films. Jim explained to me that Ross himself had gone to Harvard as an undergrad and, while there, had studied with Ed Pincus who had been a big influence on Ross’ films.
I knew Ed Pincus’ name only because I owned a copy of his ubiquitous book on filmmaking. I had never heard of any of his films. But I trusted Jim and had loved Sherman’s March and was curious to see a film by McElwee’s cinematic progenitor.
The film floored me. Several years of a person’s life had been condensed and distilled into the space of two hours. We watch the filmmaker meet his wife, get married, have children, and get divorced. The cumulative effect was overwhelming and stayed with me for days. It was as if the filmmaker had made visible the Reality behind Reality. It was both heartbreaking and life-affirming at the same time. I had never seen anything quite like it.
That film has had a more profound effect on my own work than any other film I can think of. Because the film has been almost impossible to see, Ed Pincus has never received the recognition he deserves and his influence has mostly been felt through the influence of the filmmakers that he himself influenced. Diaries is the hidden source that feeds the river of personal documentary filmmaking and is, in many ways, that genre’s purest and most perfect expression.
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