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Which comes first - form or feeling?


Marie Menken
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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I don't even remember when I met Marie Menken but it must be around 1954 or somewhere there. She had a studio with Willard Mass to whom she was married somewhere in the... on the... maybe around Ladlow Street, somewhere there in the East Village close to Canal Street. Gryphon films where they had a... you know, where she made some of the films where Willard Mass shot some of his. The other person very close always with them that I met was the composer Lucia Luoschevsky who did music for Marie Menken's first film. And Noguchi... And I met Noguchi there also because... but our real relationship began when I did began programming for the Charles Theatre and I decided to show or have her complete show so I could see for myself and my friends could see her and everybody could see her complete works, what she had done. That that was in '61 or late 1960.

Others had seen like Stan Brakhage when he came to New York for his first show at the Living Theatre in 1955 somewhere there, he stayed at Marie Menken's place. Stan had been before and stayed with Marie, with Maya Deren during his first trip and that's when Marie Menken met Stan. So that when later they decided to give him a show he stayed with Marie Menken. So, Stan was familiar, already, that early with her work. But I was not that... I was familiar with some of her early work but not with her most important work like the work explore that... in which she extends... very intensely used single frame activity that, I think, affect... influenced very much, I think, Stan and he admits that, of course, Kenneth Anger and myself, her work in... What really I got from her more than from anybody else is that she seemed to be able to create little film poets from nothing. Like nothing, it seems like nothing important, what made them important was how she did it. Her kind of filming and editing in the camera. So, it's like pure cinema you can... you know, she could take anything and make it into a lyrical poem, the quality of all of her work is very, very lyrical. There is like nothing very important that... like, there is a mood, there is something, that activity on that screen and which activity and which nothing seems to be very important or impressive or monumental, it's like reading a little poem. Which, you know, you read a lyrical little... let's say, Creeley poem and it's incredible, but there's nothing much in it, nothing much but it is great. It puts you in a state of ecstasy.

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: Marie Menken, Willard Mass, Lucia Luoschevsky, Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren

Duration: 4 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010