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Early scripts and moving away from the mainstream

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Marie Menken: how Lithuania forms its artists
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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Marie Menken comes, her, from Lithuania, her background. She was born here though and there is a woman, Martina Kudlacek who is working, now digging out all the, she is making a film about Marie Menken and she'll do a book about her and digging out all the, her background and the other, a week ago, two weeks ago, she gave me a short story that Marie Menken wrote, like long, 20 pages, about the, the, her local Philadelphia church and a priest and all those Lithuanians who come there and, very, very down-to-earth, very realistic, but she's also digging out the correspondence and, between her relatives in Lithuania and, but her Lithuanian is-was very limited but she remembered some songs and because that sort of remains longest, children's songs. And we used to sing Lithuanian children's songs together- and then- So, Lithuania. Lithuania is next to Russia and then there's Poland. Russia is this side of Ural Mountains is very wide and plain and you can look for hundreds of miles there and their songs, their folk songs and also their, some of their more modern, already, communist period songs are very wide, like if you sing like- They go wide and big and loud because there are spaces there. Lithuania is small, there are little hills, there are little, there is a hill, say, like 100 metres high and they call it a mountain and their songs are very little and brittle and fragile; Lithuanian folk songs. In a very sort of lyrical kind of quality as against the wide, big armies, big space, big lands, big wars, big country, and here's everything is small, everything's small. So there is this lyrical quality that I'm talking now about my, the work of Marie Menken, the lyricism in her work and in her temperament and everything and that is territory- I think we have both of us together some of that and that comes from this background of, ok, the local, where we come from. It determines a lot of what we are, what we do, you know, how we structure what we do, the content of these geographic, tactically- area, the landscape, the climate, the wind, what grows, the trees, the little forests, there are no big hard trees like in California, they are little. Everything is different. So, I myself have not escaped it because it formed me, it's very deep in me and I think it will always be at the very bottom of whatever I do. Same as it was for Marie Menken.

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: 4 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008