“There is no other way of breaking the frozen cinematic ground than a complete derangement of the official cinematic senses.” So wrote the film-maker, archivist, cine-activist, ceaseless proselytizer, art-world provocateur and avant-garde impresario Jonas Mekas in 1959 (paraphrasing Rimbaud, as any good beatnik should). More than any other single figure – more than any other 10, really – Mekas, who has died aged 96, wielded the pickaxe, broke that ground and remade American cinema from the shattered clods and shards the process yielded.
Mekas and his brother Adolfas were Lithuanian refugees who spent two years in slave labor camps in Nazi Germany and five more in post-war displacement camps in West Germany, before emigrating to New York City in 1950 (a moment Jonas greeted, with his characteristic naif’s exuberance, as one of shimmering ecstasy). Back home, Jonas had been one of Lithuania’s most celebrated young poets; after some weeks in New York, he bought his first Bolex16 mm camera and began work in an altogether different realm of poetic endeavor.
Brothers - Movie - Journals - Film - Culture
The brothers founded one of the great American movie journals, the quarterly Film Culture, in 1954 – at a time when mainstream culture did not think those two words belonged next to each other. The quarterly was a forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the emergent avant-garde cinema that would convulse the art and movie worlds for three decades: the new American cinema, as Mekas dubbed it, or American underground film, as it is now more commonly known. In Film Culture and his weekly column in the Village Voice (1959-1981), Mekas for years banged the drum for other and minor, alternative and iconoclastic kinds of film-making: a cinema, as he called it, “less perfect and more free”. His ecumenical approach to film culture, by no means characteristic of the...
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