Anthology Film Archives

PORTRAITS OF JONAS MEKAS

December 16 – January 31

PORTRAITS OF JONAS MEKAS
Soon after our founder Jonas Mekas passed away in January 2019, Anthology launched an ongoing, comprehensive retrospective devoted to his enormous body of film and video work. By the time we were forced to shutter our theaters in mid-March, due to the coronavirus, that retrospective had very nearly come to a close: the fifth and final installment devoted to Jonas’s own films was never presented theatrically, but we did move several of those programs online in the early days of the pandemic (and will reschedule the few remaining programs when possible). However, we also intended to devote a chapter of the film series to a selection of film portraits of Jonas by other filmmakers and artists. Now, on the occasion of Anthology’s 50th Anniversary, we’ll be presenting some of these filmed portraits online. No one documented Jonas Mekas’s life as thoroughly and persistently as Jonas himself, but these films and videos portray his life and work from another perspective, showing another side of a filmmaker, artist, writer, and friend who is greatly missed.

At the heart of this 50th anniversary series are Jonas’s appearances on three different public television programs devoted to independent, experimental cinema: Charles Levine’s CINEMA FORUM, Gerald O’Grady’s FILM-MAKERS, and Robert Gardner’s SCREENING ROOM. Jonas visited these programs in, respectively, 1971, 1976, and 1981, leading the three together to form (among other things) a kind of chronicle of the first phase of Anthology’s history, from its founding in 1970, through its relocation to Wooster Street in the mid-1970s, to its renovation of the Second Avenue Courthouse throughout the mid-to-late 80s.

The series will also include a selection of short and feature-length portrait films, which we’ll post gradually throughout December and January.

[Special note: Anthology’s collection includes the master tapes for the complete run of CINEMA FORUM; we’re preserved them, and are very happy to announce that we’ll be making all of them available online in 2021!]

Charles Levine
CINEMA FORUM (with Jonas Mekas)
1971, 58 min, video. Preserved by Anthology Film Archives.
On July 14, 1971, Jonas Mekas was the very first guest on a new show produced and hosted by experimental filmmaker Charles Levine for Public Access Channel “C”. This station had recently been established by George Stoney, the renowned filmmaker, educator, and public access pioneer, and Red Burns, with whom Stoney co-founded the Alternate Media Center (AMC) at NYU. CINEMA FORUM would be produced from 1971-72, and would welcome filmmakers and artists including Mike Kuchar, Storm De Hirsch, Elaine Summers, Rosalind Schneider, Jud Yalkut, Taka Iimura, and Ed Emshwiller, among others.

For the inaugural episode, Jonas spoke about several topics, including his own films, his role as founder and publisher of Film Culture and columnist for the Village Voice, the philosophy of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, and, of course, Anthology Film Archives, which had opened its doors just the year before. Jonas discusses the principal behind the founding of Anthology, and the need he and his fellow co-founders perceived for an institution of its kind.

Gerald O’Grady
FILM-MAKERS (with Jonas Mekas)
1976, 28 min, video
“Developed and directed by Gerald O’Grady – scholar and founder of the legendary Center for Media Study at SUNY Buffalo in the early 1970s – the series, FILM-MAKERS, was broadcast on American public television channels from 1976-77 and geared to the independent and experimental film world. It helped to promote marginal artistic practices that were generally misunderstood by the public at large. O’Grady would talk with his guests, filmmakers and artists such as Stan Vanderbeek, Peter Kubelka, Paul Sharits, Robert Breer, and Jonas Mekas. They would comment on their work, presented in a media space that was the first of its kind. [Today] FILM-MAKERS constitutes invaluable archival material for the history of independent and experimental cinema.” –CINÉMA DU RÉEL

Robert Gardner
SCREENING ROOM (with Jonas Mekas)
1981, 75 min, video. Presented courtesy of Documentary Educational Resources (DER).
SCREENING ROOM was a 1970s Boston television series that for almost ten years offered independent filmmakers a chance to show and discuss their work on a commercial (ABC-TV) affiliate station. The series was developed and hosted by filmmaker Robert Gardner (DEAD BIRDS, FOREST OF BLISS), who was Chairman of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and Director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard for many years.

Jonas visited SCREENING ROOM in October 1981 to discuss and show excerpts from his own work, as well as that of other filmmakers, including Bruce Baillie, Maya Deren, and Joseph Cornell. Jonas also took advantage of his visit to promote his ongoing efforts to establish Anthology in a new home at the Second Avenue Courthouse, which the institution had acquired in 1979 – a dream that, after nearly 10 years of fundraising and construction, would be realized when Anthology reopened in its current home in 1988.

[Please note: this episode is no longer available for free via Anthology’s Vimeo page, but it is available for a streaming rental fee of just $3.95 courtesy of Documentary Educational Resources; click here to rent it. DER is offering numerous other SCREENING ROOM episodes as well; you can browse all of them on this page.]

Brigitte Cornand
MY COUNTRY IS CINEMA. SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF JONAS MEKAS

1999, 58 min, video
Filmmaker Brigitte Cornand has made numerous documentary portraits of artists including Joan Jonas, Annette Messager, Kiki Smith, and especially Louise Bourgeois (her long association with Bourgeois resulted in several intimate and perceptive films about the great artist). In her portrait of Mekas, Jonas reflects on the destiny of his Lithuanian homeland, his arrival in New York, his achievements in the realm of avant-garde cinema, and his filmic practice.

Jackie Raynal
REMINISCENCES OF JONAS MEKAS
2015, 53 min, digital. In English and French with English subtitles. With Jonas Mekas, Jackie Raynal, André S. Labarthe, and Patrice Rollet.
Jackie Raynal has been a crucial figure in both French and American film culture for the past fifty years, as a filmmaker (DEUX FOIS), actress and editor (she has worked with everyone from Eric Rohmer, Jean-Daniel Pollet, and Philippe Garrel, to Ulrike Ottinger, Yvonne Rainer, and Abel Ferrara), and as the Director of the legendary Bleecker Street Cinema through the late 1970s-80s. Having already created one short film about Jonas Mekas [NOTES ON JONAS MEKAS (2000)], Raynal was commissioned by Andre S. Labarthe to create a more expansive portrait of her longtime friend and colleague, for the long-running program “Cinéma, de notre temps.” The result is both an affectionate, loose, and handmade film, in the tradition of Mekas’s own work, and a self-reflexive essay on the difficulty of making a portrait about a filmmaker whose entire oeuvre comprises a series of self-portraits. Asking herself, “What can one film regarding Jonas Mekas that he hasn’t already filmed himself?,” Raynal has created a playful and revealing work. Thanks in large part to the onscreen presence of Labarthe and the eloquent Mekas scholar Patrice Rollet, REMINISCENCES stealthily and unassumingly develops from a charmingly casual portrait into a penetrating, rigorous meditation on the multiple dimensions and enduring importance of Mekas’s cinema.

Peter Sempel
JONAS TOWARDS BROADWAY
1994/2019, 2 min, 16mm-to-video. Music by Peter Brötzmann.
&
3 FRIENDS SINGING (…IN THE DESERT): JONAS, LEO LETAS, ADOLFAS MEKAS
1994/2019, 2.5 min, 16mm-to-video
Two short portraits of Jonas Mekas by filmmaker and veteran Jonas chronicler, Peter Sempel. Sempel has made films with or about Kazuo Ohno, Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Nina Hagen, and Lemmy Kilmister, as well as a series of portraits of Mekas: JONAS IN THE DESERT (1994), JONAS AT THE OCEAN (2002), and JONAS IN THE JUNGLE (2013), which we hope to screen theatrically at a later date.

Karin Schneider & Nicolás Guagnini
AXIOM OF CHOICE
2003, 5 min, 16mm-to-digital, silent
“Evoking the physiognomy of a Rembrandt portrait, AXIOM OF CHOICE depicts Jonas Mekas and his son Sebastian, their heads rotating in radiant chiaroscuro against a black ground. With Mekas at its center, the references to cinematic machinery abound in this work: from the proto-filmic zoetrope (which used a spinning cylinder to create the illusion of a moving image), to the flickering zoom of Ernie Gehr’s film SERENE VELOCITY, to the enormous gyrating machine at the center of Michael Snow’s LA RÉGION CENTRALE.” – Richard Birkett, Karin Schneider & Nicolás Guagnini

Andrew Lampert
QUESTION A DAY (Questions for Jonas Mekas)
2008, 10.5 min, digital
In 2008, Andrew Lampert, employed as the film archivist of Anthology Film Archives, endeavored to ask Jonas Mekas one trivial or profound question a day. This is a selection.

John Klacsmann
ELEGY FOR J.M.
2019, 4 min, 35mm-to-digital
“An elegy for Jonas Mekas et al.
A readymade requiem.” –J.K.

Created by Anthology’s Archivist John Klacsmann, the visual track of ELEGY FOR J.M. is the result of an encoding malfunction while preparing a clip of Jonas Mekas’s LOST LOST LOST (1976), a happy digital accident in keeping with the spontaneity and openness to chance embodied by Jonas’s diary films themselves.

 

Also available online:

Gérard Courant
CINÉMATON N°1590 JONAS MEKAS

1992, 4 min, 8mm or 16mm-to-digital

Hopi Lebel & Thomas Boujut
HANGING OUT WITH JONAS MEKAS

2012, 71 min, digital

Upcoming Screenings

  • PORTRAITS OF JONAS MEKAS
    January 21 at 7:00 PM
    January 22 at 7:00 PM
    January 23 at 7:00 PM
    January 24 at 7:00 PM
    January 25 at 7:00 PM
    January 26 at 7:00 PM

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