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Soviet oppression


Survivalist politics. Having to disappear in 1944
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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The poli- politics were very down-to-earth and sort of survival kind of politics into which I, you know, immediately, or like students, not immediately, got involved and I worked in, already as soon as the Soviets marched in, in 1940, and that was when I was 17, we already, we formed groups and worked in the underground published, or published newsletters which really pulled me deeper and deeper and by the time the Germans came in, I was so involved with that, finally I had to, to, I was in danger of being arrested and that's when myself and my brother, I persuaded, he joined me. We deciding that it's time we, we cannot stay because we were told by those who were more connected, they have fingers in the German's secret police, they knew that we should disappear, that we may be arrested and that was in 44, summer, spring of 44. So, having said we had to and, where can we disappear. We were pretty naive so we said, okay, let's go to Vienna and maybe we can, join the university, you know, attend university, we will tell that we are going - if they stop us we'll tell that we are going, you know, students going to the University of Vienna which we did and that, of course, we never reached Vienna. We were taken by the German army and placed near Hamburg in a forced labour camp together with war, war prisoners, you know, French, Italians. So, the politics were, you know, survivalist. In our newsletter, in the one that I had to type, my function was, was, they wanted it typed, typed it and put it together, there were some people who were listening to BBC and writing down whatever we could, so all those news were, it was mostly news that were not available in any other way and the locals know what the Germans did there and there and there or there before that or the Soviets did there and there and there. It was information which were distributed then to, in little batches to friends and, um, I used to carry always some in my cap, in my hat under- things like that.

Jonas Mekas, poet, philosopher and film-maker, has set up film collectives, the Anthology Film Archive, published filmzines and made hundreds of films, all contributing to his title as ‘the godfather of American avant-garde cinema’. He emigrated to America after escaping from a forced labour camp in Germany in 1945.

Listeners: Amy Taubin

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor for "Film Comment" magazine and "Sight and Sound" magazine. Her book, "Taxi Driver", was published in 2000 in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series. Her chapter on "America: The Modern Era" is part of "The Critics Choice" published by Billboard Press, 2001, and her critical essays are included in many anthologies, mostly recently in "Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank" published by Scalo.

She wrote for "The Village Voice" weekly from 1987 into 2001 both as a film and a television critic. She also wrote a column for the "Village Voice" titled "Art and Industry" which covered American independent filmmaking. Her first weekly film criticism job was at the "SoHo Weekly News". Her writing has also appeared in "Art Forum", the "New York Times", the "New York Daily News", the "LA Weekly", "Millennium Film Journal", "US Harpers Bazaar" and many other magazines. She is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online.

She started her professional life as an actress, appearing most notably on Broadway in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and in avant-garde films, among them Michael Snow's "Wavelength", Andy Warhol's "Couch", and Jonas Mekas' "Diaries, Notebooks and Sketches".

Her own avant-garde film, "In the Bag" (1981) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Friends of Young Cinema Archives in Berlin.

She was the video and film curator of "The Kitchen" from 1983-1987.

She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from N.Y.U. in cinema studies. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in both the undergraduate and the MFA graduate programs, and lectures frequently at museums, media centers, and academic institutions. In 2003, she received the School of Visual Arts' art historian teaching award.

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008