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Escape from Elmshorn


Collecting books from a bombed out shop
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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We ended up in Elmshorn, which is about 20 miles from, it's like a suburb of Hamburg. It was during the period when, that was in July '44 when the British and American air force... they were bombing main cities in Hamburg, especially because it was a port, every day, sometimes two, three times every day, so we witnessed the destruction of Hamburg.

You could, you know, practically for miles, there was nothing, it was just, because we were permitted to go to movies, from then to work, we had assigned factories in the forced labour camp where we had to go to work and we could go to movies and we could go to Hamburg, if we wanted to, but we had to be back at a certain hour at the camp. So, we sometimes, with Adolfas, went to, because there was one area in the, in Hamburg, as destroyed as it was, an area near the railroad station, an area known as Altona, where there were still some book shops left. It was an area of... obviously, it was an area like New York, 4th Avenue between 14th Street and 4th Street, was in 1960 when there were book shops on both sides from 14th Street to 4th Street. You have some memory of some of that. Okay. So that was, you know, obviously book, and there were still some left, so we used to snoop to, we had to go and snoop through those, that was, there was nothing else which, of course, later caused us a lot of trouble because we collected so many books that we could, well later we had to leave the camp and run away and everything we could not carry we had to leave them, sometimes we leave them on the roadside. Adolfas has a very funny story about the, about how he left on the roadsides because he could not carry any more, complete works of Goethe.

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: Hamburg, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008