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The first camera


Arrival in New York
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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We land on the pier at the end of 23rd Street somewhere, and there was some elevation that you could go a little bit up and have like a little view of the city. So we walked up there. I get our papers... a paper before going to the train. So let's go up and see it, and we looked at New York, and said, 'It's New York! that would be stupid not to, we are here in New York to go now to Chicago. You can't go there, we'd be really stupid'. So, we had a friend, one of our friends already was in New York in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, so we called him and said, please can we come and stay with you, we're staying in New York. So, of course, we stayed in New York. We did not go to Chicago and, of course, it was not easy. We had to, you know, find jobs and find apartments, but the second evening, already, we went to the New York Film Society run by Rudolf Arnheim...

[Q] Who was my teacher at Sarah Lawrence.

... and we saw Epstein's, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Dr Caligari. And that was New York. And from there on there was no evening that, sometimes we had no money, that when we had no money we went to opera. Opera House is on the Orchard Street and 7th Avenue. We always missed the First Act because after the First Act they opened the side door and everybody goes in to smoke, and when they go in we go in. And we always, we saw most of the opera, repertory... repertoire of the first two years by missing the First Acts, but it was for us, because you could always stand in the back, or some people left their seats, so you know there were tricks to get in which we had mastered, and we did not miss any film opening, any film screening any... any ballet or music or theatre event... opening, we saw absolutely everything because we had... we were craving, we were so dry we needed it all, so for like two or three years it was very very intense.

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: New York, New York Film Society, Fall of the House of Usher, Dr Caligari, Rudolf Arnheim

Duration: 3 minutes

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008