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The dangers of having a friend on the set


A difference of opinions
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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My argument with Cassavetes and Nico Papatakis had to do with Shadows, when... you see, Nico Papatakis, had a... or ran a... had made a film already with Genet that was Un Chant d'Amour and he had a some cabaret in Paris, that's where this young woman, and I know what you real, I never saw the biography of Nico or read any books. I still have not seen the film, came in and he liked her and her singing and she, adopted the name of Nico from Nico Papatakis and later when they came to New York, since I had met them already in Paris before, they wanted to meet Andy, and I took them to Andy and that's where you know, life, different life of Nico begins. But he was at the screening of Shadows and he thought being so, so more commercially minded that it was too loose, that this film could be made into commercial success if he would only shoot like about one third of it, take some scenes out and add new ones and skip the beginning, cut, and three minutes there, and, and he, and Cassavetes agreed with him. Now, why? Okay, well sort of jump, it's like a collage, what I'm saying here now is... he reshot, and I was there through much of the shooting and then when I saw the new version I... it was, they was so different. One... was when you, when somebody sees the one that exists now and that's the second version, and has not seen the first version, still the film is very good and everybody likes it and its still very important and different in style and more loose but you cannot compare with the first version which was thought to completely improvise, its like jazz... very, in any case, it was the shot and I had written very enthusiastic review of the first one and now I see the second, the second version. I had to, to really put it down and that's when you know our argument began, which, of course, we were not on talking terms then with Cassavetes for 10 years or so. Later we made peace. But it was like a very different film and that's when Nico, and I blame Nico Papatakis for it, Nico... but now to add something to it, why Cassavetes did that? I think only lately I... came to this conclusion, what I'm saying, will be saying now and that is that he never wanted to make a film like the first version was. That was done by the sort of actors and friends that he worked in and permitted them to do and then he had yet no power he had not made no film, he been already in films, and when he went to really his own film and had money to make his own film where he had complete control to do the way he wanted, he ended up in what he was really later doing, which is again very, I think, important and very unique and very strong, his place in American cinemas is very, very important, but he went for, sort of, controlled improvisation like permitted them... which to any other filmmaker that I could compare with what he was doing with what Paul Morrissey was doing in that three, not in the Warhol film, but in his three films, Flesh, whatever, that's one four letter titled Tree... his trilogy, where he permitted them, his performers, his people, some actors, some non-actors, same as Cassavetes, you give certain idea and you want guess within that and, and then if you can jump out of it and if it works you will include it, not, not. And that's what Cassavetes was sort of, of developed and... amazingly when actors were permitted within that very loose framework too really, framework, to open to, you know, to... open themselves with no control, practically, and, and the content because was sort of very emotional and rich and the conflicts which no other Hollywood director, if one can call Cassavetes Hollywood, ever did, and Hollywood never embraced, he never had commercial success he's having now, like not commercial success but in, in all of the film club societies etc. So, in other words, what I was defending and why I had, I attacked Cassavetes, I was defending really when I look at the first version what I myself wanted to do, so I was in that sense wrong what I was, what I did. I did not understand enough myself and I did not understand enough him and I'm sort of thought that that was his film that he should not have changed, but really it was more my film and therefore I defended it, they should have left it as is.

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: Chant d'Amour, Shadows, Paris, Flesh, John Cassavetes, Niko Papantakis

Duration: 6 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008