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Exposure to art


Interest in different religions and supernatural experiences
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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I never went to church. And then I went, you know, sometimes just to keep company, so if my mother came I went to church. But then there was also a Jewish Synagogue... mosque, synagogue. I used to go there and then I went to Catholic probably with my grandfather to Catholic and the churches because I was interested in them all. And then there was a, one day my uncle called me, said, 'People are wondering why you... you go to other churches and we don't see you that often in our church'. So, of course, I had to explain it that I'm real interested. That was a scandal a little bit, because, especially my uncle, I'm his... okay if he's my uncle then I'm to him, what?

[Q] His nephew.

I'm nephew? I cannot figure out. If I'm the nephew of the priest; we're going into synagogue... what is this? But I was interested... but I was not, I was never religious, I was never for organised church but I'm very much interested in religious texts or mysterious religious texts. And certain persons, personalities, the saints, I'm very much interested in the saints. And people... where there is something very concentrated, some very concentrated energy which is not easy to explain and not easy to see or to know how far it goes and what it means, I'm interested, I was interested and I'm still interested in it. And actually, so much at some period that I had to almost restrain myself, ok, at the age of 16, 17, I was going too far in reading, you know, all those texts and, and I... I mean, that I could... I could tell, you know, that somebody's coming, I could tell what's happening around the corner and I thought, where, what's happening, where is this going, you know, like I'm leaving the realistic, down-to-earth, the ground, this is affecting me and I... I stopped like, until later already in the displaced person camps when I again picked up reading various texts on astrology and all these mystic and again happened the same! I would see that... I see that there is somebody who was, I see blood somebody has been run over around the corner there and then two minutes later they come and tell that a truck just killed this, you know, person. Or I see... I'm leaning on the wall and I can see a cyclist being also run over on the other side of the wall I'm standing. 'Hell', I said, 'this is... this is going too far'. And so I again abandoned the reading and concentrating on certain aspects of the experience with the exception of texts like St Augustine or St Theresa, which is completely something else. So, there is... danger lurking there; I have to sort of keep checking myself not to go. I like to be up front, to be on this earth with my Bolex because they, people don't realize that, you know, since I have gone through it and know that that exists and you can fall into it and it's no, not, not fantasy. I mean, even today I save a lot on telephone calls if I want, you know, to call somebody, you know, and in one minute or even in seconds that person calls me, so I still save a lot of money on telephone calls. But there are also dangers so...

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: Church, synagogue, Protestant pastor, scandal, religion, saints, premonitions

Duration: 5 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008