Jonas Mekas: A Poet With a Movie Camera

He was 26 when he and Adolfas landed in New York in 1949 together with 1,352 different displaced individuals. The brothers moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Jonas labored in manufacturing in Long Island City. He visited museums, acquired fired, struggled, watched “The Blood of a Poet,” purchased a Bolex 16-millimeter digital camera. “In Hollywood, it’s much simpler: it’s done with money,” he wrote in 1950. “But we are trying to do it with our own last miserable pennies.” People stated that the cinema made him mad. “But today, if you don’t want to sell yourself for money and work work work,” he wrote, and in the event you dreamed of being an artist, you needed to change into mad.

Mekas’s memoir, which drew criticism that he distorted his historical past beneath the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.CreditSpector Books

He wrote about his early days in his hauntingly elegiac memoir “I Had Nowhere to Go,” a assortment of diary entries that cowl 1944 to 1955 and that he started whereas in a Nazi labor camp. Published in 1991, the memoir opens with some background about his formative years in Lithuania, the Nazi occupation, and the brothers’ departure and detention. Mekas wrote that earlier than he was interned, he had engaged in “various anti-German activities.” He additionally wrote that he didn’t know anymore “is this truth or fiction,” a thread that Michael Casper amplified in a 2018 article in The New York Review of Books that accused Mekas of distorting his historical past.

The grim expenses are that Mekas supported the Nazi occupation and labored for Nazi publications, though Casper writes that none of Mekas’s writing was anti-Semitic. Mekas and his circle noticed the Germans as liberating them from the Soviets; and he characterised the newspapers as provincial, not Nazi. Casper wrote that “Mekas’s life during the war years was more complicated than he makes it out to be.” In a response, the artwork critic Barry Schwabsky lamented that Mekas had written for these papers and famous his reminiscence lapses, but additionally wrote that “Mekas’s own explanation for his inaccuracies — the trauma of living amidst so many murders, and the need to respond to them as a poet if at all — seems worthy of more respect.”

This appears proper and truthful, and I don’t consider the revelations reduce Mekas’s work. Casper agrees. “As for Mekas’s films,” he wrote, “the truth of his life does not diminish the beauty of his work; it complicates and even enhances it.” I ponder what Mekas would make of that enhancing remark. It is painful to suppose that the final 12 months of his life was clouded by this. It can be onerous to not want that he had made different selections when he was younger and joined the partisans within the woods. But he didn’t. “If you want to criticize me for my lack of ‘patriotism’ or ‘courage,’” he wrote in his memoir, “you can go to hell!” Instead, he was in a Nazi labor camp and he survived.

In time, he discovered his strategy to New York, the house the place he made movies and historical past. This brings me again to Mekas’s line about making movies to stay, which he delivers in “Walden” over photographs of a wedding ceremony, an occasion that may appear much less attention-grabbing to him than the laughing, smoking and chatting individuals across the couple. The darkly coloured sequence is jagged-looking and sometimes out of focus, and the short reducing and speedy, agitated digital camera actions at instances flip it into an impressionistic blur. Mekas utters his film-live remark, pauses after which repeats it with a essential distinction. “I make home movies, therefore I live,” Mekas says, “I live, therefore I make home movies.” Only lately, whereas rewatching “Walden,” did I lastly grasp the complete implications of his use of “home movies,” and the way for him these two phrases had change into inseparable.

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