Jonas Mekas

The Film-Makers' Cooperative came into being on 18 January, 1962. Unlike previous attempts to organize an independent film distribution center, the Co-Op was non-exclusive, nondiscriminatory, and governed by the filmmakers themselves....

Jonas Mekas began to arrange screenings with a new energy: first weekend midnight programs at the Charles Theater on Avenue B and East 12th Street in 1961 and subsequently at the Bleecker Street Cinema and the Gramercy Arts in 1963. The underground was coming into full flower and full visibility, not to say notoriety, with works in whch the tradition of social realism associated with New York was giving way to bizarre sexual extravaganzas--what in a Village Voice column, Mekas called "Baudelairean Cinema: "A world of flowers of evil, of illuminations, of torn and tortured flesh, a poetry which is at once beautiful and terrible, good and evil, delicate and dirty." Mekas was arrested on obscenity charges for screening Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, convincing Mekas of the need for an outlet for independent film more responsive to the filmmakers themselves.

HITCH.jpg (16918 bytes)To this end, he organized the Filmmakers' Cinematheque. Like previous efforts, this was initially peripatetic, opening at the New Yorker in 1964, moving to the Maidman, City Hall, and other locations, and eventually settling at the Forty-First Street Theater near Times Square. With Shirley Clarke and Lionel Rogosin, Mekas organized theFilm-Makers' Distribution Center to serve what they hoped would be a circuit of art theaters showing at lleast the feature-length works of the avant-garde....At the same time, increasing losses forced Mekas to discontinue the Cinematheque at the Forty-First Street Theater. He managed to reopen it in 1968, in what he hoped would be a permanent location in an artists's cooperative building (owned by George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus) at 80 Wooster Street in SoHo. Police harrassment ended these hopes, forcing it to temporary homes at the Methodist Church at West Fourth Street, the Bleecker Street Cinema, the Elgin, the Gotham Art; even the Gallery of Modern Art kept the Cinematheque alive for a while. But when the Film-Makers' Distribution Center was forced to close, leaving Mekas personally liable for eighty thousand dollars in debt, the Cinematheque ended too....


Myron Lounsbury

The following website provides an autobiographical account of the Anthology Film Archives, beginning with its roots and visions. Leads up to exhibitions and a discussion of the preservation of films "dedicated to the vision of the art of cinema as guided by the avante-garde sensibility." Contains a link to the archives manifesto, which serves as not only a summary of it's "polemic position but also as a reminder of the standards of cinema."

Lynette Erbe

For those who know the recent history of losses within the film community, the number of people in Jonas Mekas's He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life [1969-1985] who are now dead is overwhelming: ...John Lennon...George Maciunas, Andy Warhol...Hans Richter. The media image of John F. Kennedy is also implied through footage of Jackie and her children, invoking his assassination as representation of loss in the domain of the political.. The presence of death in this film is condensed into the hospitalization and extended illness of George Maciunas, which recurs throughout the reels, and the sequence of Hollis Frampton's funeral in Buffalo, placed near the end of the film. Although the funeral is followed by fireworks that celebrate the Brooklyn Bridge's birthday and by images of children playing, these images of regeneration and rebirth cannot erase the figure of death that weighs so heavily in the film....

Death figures the loss, not only of life but also of a national homeland. Accordingly I will also discusss the assertion [which appears twice in the intertitles] that this is a "political film," and Mekas's exile from Lithuania as a central metaphor for his development for alternative institutions. The metaphor of exile is open to a specific rereading after the recent events in Eastern Europe and invites a historical consideration of efforts to democratize an information economy.

Scott Nygren; "Film Writing and the Figure of Death"; 1992

Myron Lounsbury

One can also trace through "He Stands in a Desert" a linking of death with sexual reversal. [Filmmaker] Hollis Frampton's voice-over narrative about being confused with Hollis Melton [Mekas's wife} through an identity of names is paralleled by the sexual cross-dressing at George Maciunas's [the founder of Fluxus] wedding, which appears just before the signifier of his death in the image of the Fresh Pond Crematorium. George's wedding ceremony in 1978 is celebrated by the bride and groom each stripping and dressng in the others' clothes....

--Jonas Mekas; "He Stands in a Desert"

Myron Lounsbury


Taylor Mead of "The Flower Thief" is the happy innocent, the unspoiled idiot. He has a beautiful flower soul. He will go to heaven like all children do. The idiot and the child are unspoiled by the conventions, laws, and ideas of the world. The idiot today is the only character through which a poet can reveal the beauty of living....The entire beat generation chose idiocy. The idiot is above (or under) our daily business, money, morality.....All wise men have gone mad.

--Jonas Mekas, Village Voice, July 19, 1962

Myron Lounsbury


Two weeks ago I wrote about a new kind of star cinema that is coming from the underground. Hollywood keeps complaining that there are no new faces. They are searching in the wrong places, that's their trouble.... There is the Kuchar Brothers' movie festival going on at the New Bowery Theatre. See the most amazing gallery of fantastic creatures gathered in the Bronx. the lushest and sexiest cast of new faces. The Kuchar brothers have arrived on the movie scene. Here is the most macabre sense of humor at work....

Question: How did your film career really start?

George Kuchar: We're twenty-one now, but for many years now our films have been scorned. At the age of twelve I made a transvestite movie on the roof and was brutally beaten by my mother for having disgraced her and also for soiling her nightgown. She didn't realize how hard it is for a twelve-year-old director to get real girls for his movie. But that unfortunate incident did not end our big costume epics. One month later Mike and I filmed an Egyptian spectacle on the same roof with all of the television antennas resembling a cast of skinny thousands. Our career in films had begun.

--Jonas Mekas; Village Voice; March 5, 1964

Myron Lounsbury


Saturday night I sat in the lobby of the New Yorker Theater, while Marilyn was dying. I was defending her for the last time. Because what people do when they watch "The Misfits" is listen to those big lines and not see the beauty of MM herself. How can they do that, I thought, listen to those lines and not see the beauty of MM herself, the little bits of screen reality she creates -- fragile, yes, but true and beautiful, more beautiful than any other reality around them....

And I thought, sitting there while she was dying, listening to the silly talk, that it is not only her they are misunderstanding: They are misunderstanding the cinema itself. They never take images as they are. They always want something else, something that fits into their image of the cinema. They don't like beauty by itself: It must always be tagged to something else, something more important....

Jonas Mekas; Village Voice; August 9, 1962

Myron Lounsbury

Anthology Film Archives celebrates 25th Anniversary and Fifth Annual Film Preservation Honors at Dinner Chaired by Martin Scorsese on Monday, February 26, at Sette MoMA.

Twenty-five years old in 1996, Anthology Film Archives is presenting a special mark both its Silver Anniversary and to present its annual Film Preservation Honors.

Martin Scorsese, a friend of Anthology who was one of its first Preservation Honorees five years ago, is chairing the dinner, whichis being held at the new restaurant within the museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street.

Myron Lounsbury


You fools who look down on Westerns, who go only to "art" films, preferably European -- you don't know what you ae missing. You are missing half of the cinema, you are missing the purest poetry of action, poetry of motion, poetry of the technicolor landscapes.

I hear some zealous people want to clean up 42nd Street. What would we do without our movie joints, our hamburgers, our secret places? Clean places! We need more shadows, that's what I say. Man needs necessary, unclean corners.... I prefer the confusion of emotions to the decadent, closed, hopeless clarity and cleanliness of materialists and ratinalists. Blow, you winds of anarchy, confusion, we need you badly!

--Jonas Mekas; Village Voice; Novemeber 22, 1962

Myron Lounsbury

Jonas Mekas on Warhol

"Andy [Warhol]'s first one-reelers, 100 footers, were [filmed] up in his studio and assisted, I think, for most of the time by Gerald Malanga and his friend, a still photographer, Billy Linich. That's how he made Sleep and Tarzan regained, [Sort Of]. Those were silent, and a few more silent films. Then in the early spring of '64, I filmed The brig with what's known as, "a single system camera" - Auricon camera. Auricon single-system camera is a camera used by newsreel men, where you can find film a scene with sound on film simultaneously, magnetic or optical, and there's nobody running around with tape recorders on the side, separately. [At the] same time you get[the soundtrack] on film. It's called "single system." So I filmed The brig that way because it was the cheapest possible means. It cost me, like, 600 or so to film The Brig. "I projected it two or three days later - I developed and projected the original print with sound-on-film for the Living Theater people. I told Andy [Warhol], and he came, and he saw it, too. He was very impressed with the possibilities of sound and how cheap, how simple, that was. After that he went immediately into sound, also with the Auricon and the sound period.

"And since I knew how to operate it [Auricon], I became the camera man for it [Empire]. That's about the only thing. So, I got a camera and set it up. I said, 'Where should I point it?' Andy said, 'Just point it there. You know.' So, he came and looked at it. And then we ran [the camera] all night. We satit was Henry's office, the Rockefeller Foundation, on the fortieth floor in the Time-Life Building."

-from an interview with Patrick Smith in the Book Conversations about the Artist

Amy Eichenwald

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