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Narrative films and poetic films

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The failure of The American New Wave
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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Something happened in the 60s with that it was so much in the air that there is a possibility for the new independent sort of, young filmmakers to succeed and to really change cinema at the end of the 60s, that's when we created The New American Cinema Group. And there was Rogosin, and there was Shirley Clark and there was de Antonio, there was Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Frank, a lot of sort of- of young ready and energetic people. But and each of them made one, some made two films, but it did not progress, and that's where it stopped. And it's still not clear why, why it never, never progressed any further because I could really, excuse me- I don't know what this has to do with this project, but I can, my theory is that I was revealed by the facts of little facts, for instance, that throws light into why it failed, that they were too independent, that they, there was no real yet audience for those films, so and when they, but they all had illusions that their films will be successful, people will like them and that Hollywood companies, production would support them. But when they had a chance, like Shirley Clark, Roger Corman said okay, we'll sponsor your film and it wrote, use my studios and make a film. She goes, here is her chance. In two, three days she comes back. The second day of shooting some they clash. Shirley said I, this is the way I want to do and Roger and his advisors there was, oh this, this, don't, but oh, oh. They just clash like that and Shirley said, no, I'm not there. I do my way or you do it your way, and she left. So it was none of them, I mean you can imagine Emile De Antonio compromising, listening what anybody will say. He will do his own way or the same with Rogosin, the same with Adolfas, the same with, with Morris Engel with all of them. They were totally unwilling to compromise and they just wanted to do their own way. And, and I think it's in that that they fail what they, they all their careers or whatever ended with that because nobody wanted to sponsor, like, and they had to remain on- that's ok, Shirley Clark managed to make like "A Portrait of Jason" because it was very cheap but you know, this is not some public big, big film for wide audiences. And Adolfas stopped when he wrote two or three scripts for like musicals and, and he could not, and they had to be filmed in North Africa and he could not reduce the budget beyond, below one million. So, that ended his career because if it would be 100,000, 50,000 it could have continued. No, his scripts asked for much more than that. The same with Shirley, the same Rogosin the same- and that was the end of that American New Wave. Another problem with them was, when the Filmmakers Cooperative was created, all the low budget filmmakers joined and we were all together and it grew and exploded and we created our own outlets, hundreds of them and it still exists. And that did not bring money but it sort of helped the, the, their spirits you know the, the whole movement. While the budgeted filmmakers, de Antonio, Shirley Clark, Rogosin, they refused to join. They said, said no I had, you know big arguments with them, just let's stick together and then we can together develop outlets and, no, they said, we, we, we have our films for wider audiences, we need promotion advertising. You see, our principle is not to advertise, not to promote the films themselves will gain, will promote themselves. No, so they did not join and that was their second mistake, second crucial mistake. Because if they would have joined I think they would, could have developed a national and international network of outlets.

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, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008