Filmmaker, poet, critic and philosopher Jonas Mekas passed away on January 23 at the age of 96. The wildly creative and willfully cantankerous Mekas was a champion of experimental cinema and a film critic whose taste and style was ahead of its time. Mekas is credited with getting Andy Warhol to try his hand at movie-making, and his feminist defense of Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird put the nearly-century old Mekas right in time with millenials and the Me Too movement. Mekas was a well known Lithuanian language poet, and a collaborator with Nico, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Salvador Dali. However he’s best remembered as a film curator and critic. Here’s the Wiki…
In 1954, together with his brother Adolfas Mekas, he founded Film Culture, and in 1958 he began writing his “Movie Journal” column for The Village Voice. In 1962, he co-founded Film-Makers’ Cooperative 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 film. Along with Lionel Rogosin, he was part of the New American Cinema movement.
Days after his passing The Guardian published Mekas’ last interview. Here’s a taste of Mekas’ famous flair for creative camaraderie…
Perhaps most importantly, he opened up his loft to friends and fellow travellers in the avant garde. Here, any number of legendary – or soon to be legendary – artists met to watch endless films in which nothing happened, while discussing cultural possibilities. These included Andy Warhol, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Salvador Dalí, Kenneth Anger, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs. (Although he was firmly rooted in the counterculture, he had many establishment friends. Mekas taught the children of John and Jackie Kennedy to make films.)
It was at Mekas’s apartment that Warhol first became interested in film-making. “In my loft,” he says, “Andy met film-makers and was inspired by them. That’s where he got the bug. My loft was a gathering space for musicians, poets, film-makers.” Mekas helped Warhol shoot Empire, an eight-hour, slow-motion film of an unchanging view of the Empire State Building. He has little time for those who regard Warhol as merely a self-publicist. He didn’t seek out fame, says Mekas – it was the other way round.
“The newspapers began to attack him and it created a kind of fame. Then the society around him began to seek him out. Then everybody began to write and say, ‘Andy is only interested in those fake people, he only wants fame.’ But it was the reverse . He was never interested in them and, the more he ignored them, the more they flocked to him. Everybody could go into the Factory – and lost souls would come in because he never said no. Whatever they said, he acted like a good father. He just never said no.”
Read the rest of the interview here, and watch this great vid about Mekas, his life and work to find out more about the great man…
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