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Learning English


Screening my first avant-garde film
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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In April of '53, I moved to Orchard Street... I escaped Williamsburg. And that is where another stage of my life, immediately begins because then it already began... already the first... the first time that I organised avant-garde film screening, myself and it was...  there was a bunch of friends that I met already in Manhattan that opened a gallery on Avenue A and 1st Street, Gallery East, it was called. So they said, why don't you show some movies besides, you know, art, so I said, okay. So, on October 29th in '53, I remember very well because it's coming up for 50 years, exactly 50 years ago, I presented my... I curated my first avant-garde film.

[Q] And what was it?

It was Francis Lee Davis, Kenneth Anger, I have to look up, but it's... now they're all classics, but in those days they were the contemporary avant-garde film that I had seen at Cinema 16. So, that was a completely new, really, chapter begins, but I worked already, and a year, I lived in for 95 Orchard Street and paid $14.95 per month. $14.95 a month. When in... I lived for three years on Orchard Street, and in December '54, a year later, we issue... Adolfas by the way, between... was in the, drafted into the army, during the Korean War. So, he came back from the army in the spring of... when I moved to actual like, second week when I actually moved to Orchard, he comes back. So, then we begin to plan to start a film institute in New York, similar to the British Film Institute. We had plans immediately, we have, and actually, it's a long story but from these plans, later the American Film Institute developed because, based on our plan, this nobody knows that, but Colin Young, because we had a first meeting, and Robert Hughes and we presented our plan to them and that's a long story. Then, as we were working on that, also we were already planning Film Culture magazine in December of '54, we issued the first issue of Film Culture magazine. So, it becomes from there very intense, very, very, very busy and very intense. So intense that there are gaps sometimes for months that I don't know where I was, what I did, because it was so... I was so busy.

[Q] Let's go back a second...

But I was still working at the Graphic Studios because that's where all the money is, you know, came for, my, for my salary to publish Film Culture and so everybody was... Anias Nin told Parker Tyler that I... we must be Soviet spies because how else could they publish Film Culture with, how could these kids, those shabby kids, you know, from post-war Europe, who are they that they can publish this magazine and they must be paid by Mosco!. I have, I have some correspondence actually to that effect, it was later I met Anais Nin, I met her... that's a joke for my joke book. And only in 40, it was in '58, early '58 that I decided to quit; I could not cope any more with, you know, Film Culture, I had to quit Graphic Studios and I said, now I will become real independent, I don't want to work for anybody else any more. It was hard, hard five or so years to come, but I never worked for anybody else.

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.

Duration: 5 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008