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Flaming Creatures lands me in court


Arrest for screening Un Chant d'Amour
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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Then I switched to the Gramercy Arts Theatre. In between... in between, we have some other screen exactly between the Charles and the Gramercy, we had some screening at the Bleeker Street Cinema and we were thrown out there also from the Bleeker Street Cinema under the same pretext, really, that the manager of the theatre, it was not Lionel Rogosin, who was the owner, but they said that we are ruining their reputation, that we are, like our audience, their audience is so different from our audience that their audience, that their audience, when they see this other audience, then next time they won't come to that theatre. So, after three or four weekend screenings, we were thrown out. I think that's where we have some shows at, on Broadway West, somewhere at the, I think, a little gallery that Jackson Pollock's girlfriend, somebody was running. We had, and then we rented the Gramercy Arts Theatre. We were thrown out from many places in those days.

[Q] And you also had a policy that...

... including Writer's Stage on 4th Street. We could not have any screenings after the arrest, that's where, after the arrest and seizure of Flaming Creatures, when everybod... everybody said I'm in trouble because there was, you know, the Lenny Bruce case going, it was just, had just completed and he, he lost the case so that my case, they thought, was worse. So, I thought, okay, then I will make it more worse if it's, so then I screened Genet's film two weeks later and I was arrested, of course, again. But they, it was by my calculation that Genet was, had already a certain reputation in New York, The Balcony and I think The Maids maybe had opened so that I'm arrested for Genet film, made by Genet, actually by Nico Papatakis it will be, make the case for the more difficult, like Jack Smith, you know, who is, you know, nobody. So, I, it was sort of calculated. Actually, so calculated that I had a sandwich and I knew I will be arrested, I had a sandwich, a chicken in my pocket and when I introduced the screening, I noticed already police in the audience and I addressed them. I said, 'I know you're the police so, you know, please have a good time, watch the film' and, of course, I was arrested and imprisoned. I brought out my chicken, and then there is this voice in the next cell, you could say and you see there was this black guy watching greedily my chicken. So, I, you know, split the chicken, I gave him, squeezed in half of the chicken, and we had a good supper. So, a year later, I walked, no it was more, like three or four years later, I walked somewhere, not far from here and this black guy comes up. 'Remember me?' I said, 'Who are you, I don't know you'. 'You gave me half of your chicken in jail'.

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: The Charles, Gramercy Arts Theatre, Bleeker Street Cinema, Writers' Stage, Un Chant d'Amour, Lionel Rogosin, Jackson Pollock, Lenny Bruce, Jean Genet

Duration: 4 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008