Cinema Heritage: From The Film Foundation

Jonas Mekas [...]

Jonas Mekas: Remembrance of Things Past

A legendary figure of the American avant-garde, Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) was at the heart of the Sixties underground film scene as a critic, curator, and filmmaker. Displaced from their native Lithuania as refugees in postwar New York, Mekas and his brother Adolfas soon joined the city's independent film community, founding Film Culture, Anthology Film Archives, and writing for the Village Voice. They advocated for a New American Cinema, forming The Film-Makers' Cooperative with figures like Lionel Rogosin and Shirley Clarke, and later focused on abstract works by experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage and Gregory Markopoulos.

Mekas turned towards avant-garde filmmaking and the diaristic form with intimate, personal epics, edited from 16mm footage of his daily life over the years. Mekas' was the art of the glimpse – life captured in the burst of a few frames – but also of memories recollected in tranquility: poetic fragments with narration or intertitles, accompanied by evocative music. The sense of wistful introspection derives as much from his lifelong feelings of exile as to how the company of others becomes a ghostly afterimage in the solitary act of remembrance, reminding us of Cocteau's eternal dictum that cinema is death at work. An advocate for 'oppositional cinema,' Mekas' challenging spirit against dominant culture codes keeps independent cinema alive and kicking in the age of digital globalisation.