Jarman, Jung and the Collective UnconsciousJuly 29, 2012
Revolutions in Progress: Better the Devil take you to Heaven…August 1, 2012
By Diarmuid Hester
My temporary relocation to New York has allowed me to visit the fantastic and rightly renowned Anthology Film Archives in downtown Manhattan. Founded by the radical filmmaker, Jonas Mekas, and others (including P. Adams Sitney, Brakhage and Peter Kubelka), the archive holds one of the largest collections of avant-garde film in the world, housed in one of those fantastic buildings evocative of Downtown’s past as a creative and cultural hub. It’s also got a brilliant, and exceptionally-well curated programme of films and events including an upcoming retrospective on Grindhouse director Jeff Lieberman, a screening of Warhol’s Camp (1965) and The Closet (1966) and a season of Jean Epstein’s films from the twenties and thirties.
I was first introduced to Mekas’ seminal work in avant-garde filmmaking by Dan Childs’ article, “Distillation of Life” in the very first issue of One+One:Filmmakers Journal. A teaser of his piece follows below; you can download the entire article and issue from our journal page now.
“Distillation of Life: The Works of Jonas Mekas”
I press play. The film starts, revealing the interior of a New York apartment. Some rather frantic jazz music is playing. An old man in a black fedora and loosely fitting blue cotton shirt sits back and pours a glass of white wine into a tumbler with great relish. He takes a sip and sets the glass down firmly on the varnished pine table top. He stands and moves out of frame briefly. The jazz music stops and he sits back down. His bright and mischievous eyes peer out of his bulbous, chelonian face. He takes another leisurely sip of wine and then begins to speak in a vital staccato with a strong Eastern European accent. He takes his time, choosing each word carefully and savouring its expression. He talks animatedly of a love affair with New York City; its seasons, memories, friends past and present, every so often pausing to refill his glass. With genuine zeal he proclaims his happiness.
The man in the film is Jonas Mekas; writer, poet and oft-proclaimed godfather of American avant-garde cinema. Mekas is a living legend; a friend and contemporary of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and John Lennon. He documented, in his own frenetic, kaleidoscopic style, the vibrant New York art scene of the 1960s and 70s. His films crackle with the excitement of the times.
To our 21st century eyes, saturated as they are with rapidly changing images, Mekas’ early films make sense in a way that they could not possibly have done at the time they were created. His first diary film, Walden (Diaries, Notes, Sketches), was compiled from footage shot between 1964 and 1969, and contains scenes of his life in New York and the vitality of the avant-garde cinema community. Images such as a spring walk in central park or footage of Mekas himself in a cafe or having dinner are combined with candid shots of Andy Warhol, Hans Richter, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon and Yoko Ono amongst others.