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Arrest for screening Un Chant d'Amour


Screenings and venues in the 1960s
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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We began as soon as we created cooperative, we thought would be idea that we begin screenings and rent places, so we, right around a... the corner there was a small theatre that was the Gramercy Arts, Gramercy Arts yeah?

[Q] Yup.

Playhouse on 28th Street, I think, and that's where we began, but screening and that is where the first... that where Andy Warhol introduced his work, The Sleep that's where Scorpio Rising opened, that where Illiac Passion for... we used it for one year, a lot of very important work come from the 1960s and premieres there.

[Q] But even...

And that's also where the first screenings of Flaming Creatures took place, and but we could not get my, you know, for which I was arrested, but the arrest did not take place there. We were thrown out as soon as there were rumours in the press that some, there is a film being screened that probably is becoming very controversial. The owner of the theatre heard, Mr Rakolin, heard about it and he said, 'Go out, you cannot continue your screenings here', so we were thrown out and we move to The Bridge Theatre on 4th Street, 4th Street? And that's where the arrest took place. We continued screening.

[Q] But even before the Gramercy Arts you were screening, I remember the first big screenings were at the Charles.

It... yeah, I mean at the Charles that was simultaneously a continued screenings at the Charles, but that was even before the creation of the Film-makers' Cooperative. By the time, by the beginning of 1962 I have to look up, I think that, that it was really that it broke and we discontinued our screenings at the Charles. But I was running the most important active period, it was important because it sort of was a place where the film-makers could get together and was running open houses, and there... that was end of '60, and that was in 1961. And went I think to 1962. Because the theatre could not make money and they had no, attendance to their commercial programmes. The two young guys who were very brave and adventuresome, they gave to me, they said, do what you want to do or something, whatever, so I started changing the programme to sort of auteur theory more or less of Hollywood and introduced the independent avant-garde and even Sun Ra, whom I had met in Chicago when he came to New York. I said, 'Do we want to do something? We have place'. So Sun Ra's first New York performance took place at the Charles Theatre. So I met him at the beginning of his career, and then in like 1990 some, or 1988-89 I'm at the airport, waiting for my brother, and I see this guy wheeling a huge load of drums and stuff, by himself and I see it's Sun Ra. I think he was coming from his last, before he died, performance, it was in Moscow, I think. So, I came and I helped to wheel it out to the taxi. So that's a funny sort of curious coincidence, I met him at the beginning and the end.

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: Gramercy Arts Playhouse, Scorpio Rising, Illiac Passion, Flaming Creatures, Bridge Theatre, The Charles, Andy Warhol, Sun Ra

Duration: 4 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008