Close Up

3 March 2019: Lost Lost Lost: A Tribute to Jonas Mekas


One month on from his passing, we pay tribute to the great Jonas Mekas with an evening of films by him and his friends, including Lost Lost Lost on 16mm.

Poet and hero of the American counter-culture, Jonas Mekas invented the diary form of filmmaking. Lost Lost Lost comprises fourteen years of filming, starting from his arrival in America as a political refugee. It documents the New York counterculture of the '50s and the development of Mekas' own filming style.

Lost Lost Lost
Jonas Mekas, 1976, 180 min, 16mm
Introduced by Juliet Jacques

"The period I am dealing with in these six reels was a period of desperation, of attempts to desperately grow roots into the new ground, create new memories. In these six painful reels I tried to indicate how it feels to be an exile, how I felt in those years. They describe the mood of a Displaced Person who hasn't yet forgotten his native country but hasn't yet gained a new one. The sixth reel is a transitional reel where we begin to see some relaxation, where I begin to find moments of happiness. New life begins…" – Jonas Mekas

"The borderline is fading between an artifact – an "œuvre d’art", conceived as such, a pure product of stylized imagination – and what can be described as a poet's account of events; as sincere and as honest as only a poet's account can be. Maybe Jonas Mekas' Lost Lost Lost has just marked the beginning of a new genre. In the line of a Gide, of a Sartre, of a Malraux. But in film." – Antonin J. Liehm

Jonas Mekas 1922 - 2019

"It's very important for me that those fragments of beauty, of Paradise, are brought to the attention of friends and strangers equally."

This sudden loss reminded me how fundamental Jonas Mekas’ work as a filmmaker, poet and founder of Anthology Film Archives has been for me and more importantly for Close-Up. My first meeting with him was in early 2000 when I saw a copy of Lost Lost Lost on VHS. I cannot describe how profoundly this film, and subsequently his other films, affected me. As a young immigrant in London, the echoes were unfathomable. Yes, the little buzz of his Bolex in the 70s, somewhere on the Lower East side of New York, meant that my world would never be the same… To create pure poetry where technical imperfections and money restraints become the fabric of the oeuvre, was also a revelation for the aspiring filmmaker I was then. The intimate diary style of his films influenced my own practice so much, that a close friend of mine once said “seems like you got the Mekas bug”.

But it was also a decisive moment in that these films had to be shared, and the first screenings for friends and strangers alike started there and then, in remote warehouses where the attendance would rarely exceed two or three… The need to share, by any means, was in a great part initiated by seeing Mekas’ films and learning more about his work at Anthology. A few years later I started Close-Up. This brought me to Paris to meet Pip Chodorov, a dear friend of Mekas and the director of an extraordinary video distribution company, Re:Voir, which has released most of Mekas’ early films.

When we created Close-Up’s website, the introduction of our “about us” page was the quote of this obituary, which became our ethos. Reflecting on this now, what more defines the work of Mekas but those two words? About us. With two of his close friends, Louis Benassi and Benn Northover, we later organised a programme of his films, with Mekas in attendance. Imagine… a humble local film club invited and had Mekas, the godfather of American experimental cinema and our hero, talking after a screening of his films, in a bar on Brick Lane. It gave me a great deal of confidence that a lot can be achieved independently and outside the usual institutions. This again was Mekas’ teaching.

Anthology has always been an organisation to look up to for us at Close-Up, and the only place I constantly refer to when asked which cinema I admire the most in the world. And each time I re-watch Lost Lost Lost, Walden, or Reminiscences, tears always accompany my joy.

Today there were only tears.

Damien Sanville,
23rd January 2019