PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN was filmed sporadically over the span of six years (1925-1931) in Bermuda, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and British Columbia. The director, producer, and photographer was Henwar Rodakiewicz, then only in his mid-twenties. He had no real concept for how the overall film would turn out—as there were very few precedents in existence at the time—and relied only upon his personal intuition and keen eye for cinematic nuance.
The film is broken up into three movements, a structural analogy to a musical symphony, but also suggestive of the overall visual content: movement and how to capture it. In the service of this study, and within each movement, Rodakiewicz employs various techniques, including slow motion (the twisting spirals of smoke shot at 64 FPS), geometry (water flowing in contrasting directions in contiguous shots), repetition, exposure (shadows are deep and dark), abstraction, and rhythm. As with A Page of Madness (1926), the work pushes a step beyond naturalism, guiding the viewer into a place of pure expression. The end result is, as the title suggests, a meditative study of Rodakiewicz in his youth. To quote the great director Fred Zinnemann, “Rodakiewicz was trying to express himself through these inanimate objects of nature; he was actually showing himself. It was a remarkable but personal piece of filmmaking.”