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Marie Menken


The temperamental Jack Smith
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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When we opened Anthology Film Archives, he purchased at a very nice price with the monies from Jerome Hill who paid for all of the prints, a print of Flaming Creatures and we showed it publicly and already... by that time, that we are talking now about 1971, the censorship laws were were practically abandoned in New York City, and I think that the case of Flaming Creatures contributed a lot to that because there was so much discussion of censorship, film censorship because of that.

And then like a year later Jack comes in and he says he wants more money for the print, he needs money. I said, 'No, I don't have because the print was paid by Jerome Hill Foundation and they paid it all and better than some others'. But I checked with the foundation and said, 'No, they cannot'. So he, from there on, he began turning against, you know, Anthology and me. He declared that I am a landlord and a lobster, and he had very funny names invented to describe me. And I became a personage in many of his productions and he always told me not to go to see... he almost forbid me to go to see any of them. He did not want to have me in any of his... in those... I went once and he told me to go out, not to watch it. I thought I will, you know, maybe put a mask and... and I did not take it very seriously because I knew how complex he is and I knew that he... he is... and yet he was... it was not a game, it was serious, he took it, he really meant it but that... that is what... how he was and all his work was.

I mean, he, Jack Smith was another one that one could, sort of, call if one wants a genius because, you know, he's a genius, one who really changes directions art and a very, very deep way. I mean, in theatre he was doing so many different things: and photography, and theatre, and cinema, whatever, in every of those areas. He... he went into new directions and inspired others and created, like, followers who then later proceeded and went to those directions that he started. So he was a... a pioneer and... but as I say, complex and... and a sort of suffering person. I don't know exactly how he grew up, somebody some day will look into it, but I know that his mother lived in Chicago and she used to call me like once a month or so. How is my son? Tell me how is my son doing? And she was just a working woman and obviously he did not write to her, not call her, so I had to be the one to tell her. So that was that much... of course, one can again talk and talk about Jack Smith.

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: Anthology Film Archives, Jerome Hill, Jack Smith

Duration: 4 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010