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The strongest a best beer comes from Lithuania


Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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I had my Bolex, when I arrived in Vilnius in Lithuania. And nobody was allowed to leave Vilnius, and you stayed there and that as all you saw of Lithuania. I said, 'No, I don't want to, I want to go to my village'. They say, 'Yes? Yes, really?' And they have to go and get approval from the ministry, but they could not refuse, so okay, so they took me to my mother. But they said, 'Yeah, but you have only Bolex, you are making a film?' I mean, we have all this technology with us, it's a real... we have a camera, we will give you a cameramen and soundmen. And I said, 'No, I don't want, I just I want my, you know, my Bolex'.

So all the time, wherever I went, there was always like a mile away and further there was a truckload of... full of film equipment because they thought... they said, 'There will be time he will realise that he needs it and he will call us'. 'Call us'. No, I never called them and, of course, I filmed with my Bolex and all the time though, you know, you could hear helicopters sort of going there and, you know, I was never really alone and I never, I could never really know, I was never able to be really free in what I was talking. I did not because there was also... they sent a woman from the Party that went, you know, to help me to be for... you know. And she was always there and you did not know in what bush there was a microphone or so I had to be very, very, very careful.

So then I filmed, then I came back and I put the material under the bed and there it was. And I had completely forgotten that Hans Brecht in Hamburg, whom I had met some months before I went there with Kenneth Anger and Steve Waskin for something had he said, 'Oh, I hear you are going to Lithuania, are you filming?' I said, 'No, I don't know because my camera broke down'. So I said, 'Yeah, but Hans Brecht said, 'I will buy you a camera and I will pay for the film for the rights to premiere it in Hamburg'. So he bought me a new Bolex and all the film that I needed, but then I forgot about it and I receive like December, I don't know, 10th, I receive a telegram from him saying, 'Yes, the date is set, it's 23rd December, send us the film'. God! So I had like one week to finish the film and make a print or something and ship then I made the date. Really, I made a date, but I had then to really figure out some very simple and straight structure how to... and that's how, since it was so close to me, so like very personal footage, I sort of distanced myself by putting the numbers like mathematically numbers and I just strung it and very, very... I did in two or three days, you know, editing so-called process. Then it was screened and in Germany it was repeated every year practically on that day for like 10 years because German refugees identified themselves with that film so it was very successful in Germany.

And then at the end of that year I think it was the same year a Soviet film, the head of the Soviet film expo came to New York, Serebrekov was his name and with him came... Actually, he came Banionis, he brought the print of Solyaris and Banionis is the star of Solyaris which I screened for friends and told them about the Elgin Theatre just for ourselves. Then he said, 'I want to see this film that everybody is talking, the reminiscences of a journey to Lithuania'... And Banionis, old friend still from Lithuania he used to come and teach us in my little theatre group, I knew him from those days said, 'I want to see it too'. So they saw the film and the film ends and Serebrekov said, 'You have to destroy this film. This doesn't show any progress in this, how do you dare to show this film, don't show it!' And Banionis, you know, my friend, he began defending and indeed it practically went into a fistfight between the two Banionis and Serebrekov. Of course, you know, I did not destroy that film but he really was mad, Serebrekov. So that is more or less on Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania.

Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), Lithuanian-born poet, philosopher and film-maker, 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.

Tags: Solyaris, Reminiscences of a journey to Lithuania, Hans Brecht, Kenneth Anger, Steve Waskin, Donatas Banionis, Nikolai Serebryakov

Duration: 5 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010