Close Up

2 - 30 January 2022: Jonas Mekas 100!

“I am standing in the middle of the information highway and laughing, because a butterfly on a little flower somewhere in China just fluttered its wings, and I know that the entire history, culture will drastically change because of that fluttering.  A Super 8mm camera just made a little soft buzz somewhere, somewhere on the lower east side of New York, and the world will never be the same.” – Jonas Mekas

A Lithuanian, arriving in New York in flight from war-torn Europe, Jonas Mekas became one of the leading figures of American avant-garde filmmaking. In 1954, he became editor and chief of Film Culture; in 1958 he began writing his “Movie Journal” column for the Village Voice; in 1962 he co-founded the Film-Makers’ Cooperative (FMC) and the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque in 1964, which eventually grew into Anthology Film Archives, one of the world’s largest and most important repositories of avant-garde films. His own output ranged from narrative films (Guns of the Trees) to documentaries (The Brig) and to “diaries” (Walden). Mekas' highly personal film diaries recorded many of the underground events from the 1950s to the 80s as well as his own life, creating a unique body of work that is both a record of those eventful years and remarkable film poetry. 2022 would have been the 100th anniversary of this legendary filmmaker, and to celebrate this occasion we’re delighted to present 10 of Mekas’ landmark films.


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Guns of the Trees
Jonas Mekas, 1962, 87 min

Guns of the Trees deals with the thoughts, feelings, and anguished strivings of my generation, faced with the moral perplexity of our times. Conceived as an episodic, horizontal film, there is no apparent direct story connection between one scene and the next. The scenes act like pieces of a larger, timed, emotional mosaic. Where the direct word, or the direct image, fails – when we come to more essential things – the indirectness of the poet will seize the essence and the truth.” – Jonas Mekas


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The Brig
Jonas Mekas, 1964, 68 min

"I went to see The Brig, the play, the night it closed. The Becks were told to shut down and get out. The performance, by this time, was so precisely acted that it moved with the inevitability of life itself. As I watched it I thought: 'Suppose this was a real brig; suppose I was a newsreel reporter; suppose I got permission from the U.S. Marine Corps to go into one of their brigs and film the goings-on: What a document one could bring to the eyes of humanity!' The way The Brig was being played now, it was a real brig, as far as I was concerned. This idea took possession of my mind and my senses so thoroughly that I walked out of the play. I didn’t want to know anything about what would happen next in the play; I wanted to see it with my camera. I had to film it." – Jonas Mekas

Award Presentation to Andy Warhol
Jonas Mekas, 1964, 12 min

“In 1964 Film Culture magazine chose Andy Warhol for its annual Independent Film award. The plan was to show some of Andy’s films and have Andy come on stage and hand him the award. Andy said, no, he didn’t want a public presentation. So I decided to hand him the award at the Factory, film the occasion, and show the film at the Award Presentation show at the New Yorker Theater. Andy thought it was a good idea. He got some of the superstars together for the occasion. I was on my way to the Factory with three rolls of film when I remembered that I had nothing to present to Andy. So on the corner I bought a basket of mixed fruit. It was presented to Andy by Ivy Nicholson’s little son.” – Jonas Mekas


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Walden
Jonas Mekas, 1969, 180 min

"Since 1950 I have been keeping a film diary. I have been walking around with my Bolex and reacting to the immediate reality: situations, friends, New York, seasons of the year. On some days I shot ten frames, on others ten seconds, still on others ten minutes. Or I shot nothing. When one writes diaries, it's a retrospective process: you sit down, you look back at your day, and you write it all down. To keep a film (camera) diary, is to react (with your camera) immediately, now, this instant: either you get it now, or you don't get it at all. To go back and shoot it later, it would mean restaging, be it events or feelings. To get it now, as it happens, demands the total mastery of one's tools (in this case, Bolex): it has to register the reality to which I react and also it has to register my state of feeling (and all the memories) as I react. Which also means, that I had to do all the structuring (editing) right there, during the shooting, in the camera. All footage that you'll see in the Diaries is exactly as it came out from the camera: there was no way of achieving it in the editing room without destroying its form and content. Walden contains materials from the years 1965-69, strung together in chronological order. For the soundtrack I used some of the sounds that I collected during the same period: voices, subways, much street noise, bits of Chopin (I am a romantic), and other significant and insignificant sounds." – Jonas Mekas


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Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania
Jonas Mekas, 1972, 82 min
Introduced by Gareth Evans (6:30pm screening only)

"This film consists of three parts. The first part is made up of footage I shot with my first Bolex during my first years in America, mostly from 1950-1953… The second part was shot in August 1971, in Lithuania. Almost all of the footage come from Semeniskiai, the village I was born in… The third part begins with a parenthesis in Elmshorn, a suburb of Hambourg, where we spent a year in forced labor camp during the war. After the parenthesis closes, we are in Vienna where we see some of my best friends – Peter Kubelka, Hermann Nitsch, Annette Michelson, Ken Jacobs… The sound: I talk during much of the film, reminiscing about this and that. Mostly it's about myself, as a Displaced Person, my relation to home, Memory, Culture, Up-rootedness, Childhood." – Jonas Mekas


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Lost Lost Lost
Jonas Mekas, 1976, 178 min

”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


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The Sixties Quartet

Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol
Jonas Mekas, 1990, 35 min

Jonas Mekas is known for his rapid-fire diary films. His Scenes from the Life chronicles not only Andy Warhol, but also the social and cultural excitement that swirled around him, throbbing to a hypnotic Velvet Underground beat.

Zefiro Torna or Scenes from the Life of George Maciunas
Jonas Mekas, 1992, 34 min

"Images from the life of George Maciunas. Includes footage I took of George in 1952, at his parents' house, with his father and mother and sister Nijole. Bits of Fluxus events and performances, and picnics with friends (Almus, Andy Warhol, John Lenon, Yoko Ono, etc.); George's wedding and footage I took of him in Boston Hospital three days before he died." – Jonas Mekas

Happy Birthday to John
Jonas Mekas, 1996, 24 min

“On October 9th, 1972, half of the music world gathered in Syracuse, N.Y., to celebrate the opening of John Lennon/Yoko Ono Fluxus show, designed by George Maciunas. Same day, a smaller group gathered in a local hotel room to celebrate John's birthday." – Jonas Mekas

This Side of Paradise
Jonas Mekas, 1999, 35 min

"Unpredictably, as most of my life's key events have been, for a period of several years of late sixties and early seventies, I had the fortune to spend some time, mostly during the summers, with Jackie Kennedy's and her sister Lee Radziwill's families and children. Cinema was an integral, inseparable, as a matter of fact, a key part of our friendship. The time was still very close to the untimely, tragic death of John F. Kennedy. Jackie wanted to give something to her children to do, to help to ease the transition, life without a father. One of her thoughts was that a movie camera would be fun for children. Peter Beard, who was at that time tutoring John Jr. and Caroline in art history, suggested to Jackie that I was the man to introduce the children to cinema. Jackie said yes. And that's how it all began.” – Jonas Mekas


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He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life
Jonas Mekas, 1969/85, 150 min

"The film consists of 124 brief sketches, each half-a-minute to about two minutes long. Portraits of people I have spent time with, places, seasons of the year, weather (storms, snow, blizzards etc...) many of my film-maker friends – streets and parks of New-York – brief escape in nature, out of town – nothing spectacular, unimportant celebrations of life that has gone, by now, and remains only as a record in these personal, brief sketches." – Jonas Mekas


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Jonas
Gideon Bachmann, 1968, 31 min

“A verité portrait of Jonas Mekas making his daily rounds, Jonas shows us the underground impresario attending a peace rally, filming in Central Park, typing up notes at the Village Voice and projecting his latest rushes at the Film-Makers' Cooperative. A true New Yorker, Mekas seems to be everywhere at once, always with a Bolex camera slung over his shoulder. In detailing these routines, director Gideon Bachmann comes away with a striking time capsule of a city bent on art." – Max Goldberg

Meanwhile a Butterfly Flies
Julius Ziz, 2002, 52 min

Julius Ziz's poetic documentary is an intimate homage to his friend Jonas Mekas.


This retrospective opens "Jonas Mekas 100!", a worldwide celebration of Mekas' 100th anniversary: jonasmekas100.com

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This programme is supported by the Lithuanian Embassy and the Lithuanian Culture Institute.

We would like to thanks Ula Tornau, (Cultural Attaché for the Lithuanian Embassy UK), Pip Chodorov (Re:Voir), Julius Ziz and Sebastian Mekas for their support in making this programme possible.