Jonas Mekas tells me he’s 27 years old. Strictly speaking, he’s 95, but the avant garde film-maker, poet, critic and philosopher decided 68 years ago that he was sticking at 27. “After 27, people begin to become old, according to Melville,” he says. “They look back and repeat. After 27, you begin to think, ‘Is this the right way to do it?’ You think twice. Before that, you say, ‘**** you, I don’t care. I just do it.’”
Is he still in his “**** you” period? “Yes I am. When I came to New York I was 27. I was very angry about what I had lost before 27. I always blamed the ‘civilisation’ that threw me out of my home.” Mekas still has a thick European accent. He grew up in a small village in northern Lithuania called Semeniškiai – he calls it a paradise “where nothing happened then suddenly everything happened”.
Paradise - Soviets - Photograph - Soldier - Camera
He lost paradise when the Soviets invaded in 1940. That is when he took his first photograph, aged 17. A soldier snatched his camera and confiscated the film. A year later, the Germans invaded. Mekas joined the resistance, typing out news bulletins sourced from BBC broadcasts and distributing them clandestinely. One day, his typewriter went missing and he feared he’d been found out.
He and his brother Adolfus fled Lithuania in 1944, but were stopped on a train in Germany and imprisoned in a Nazi labour camp in Hamburg for eight months. The brothers escaped but were caught and kept until 1946 in displaced persons’ camps. Eventually, they emigrated to America, settling in Brooklyn, New York. There, Mekas borrowed money and bought his first Bolex 16mm movie camera. His film-making days had begun.
Films - Mekas - Plot - Time - Artifice
But they weren’t conventional films. Mekas eschewed narrative and plot. He didn’t have time for the artifice of...
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