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My films are like haiku poems


Being the film-makers' bookkeeper
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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I was always there at the Co-op for the first few years, and it was me who always ran those showcases and showed their works, so we were always working and for a couple of years we even advanced when they needed money through the Co-op until Jack Smith decided that he will never return that money, he deserves that money, but as I say, this is film-makers money, it's their rental. You know, they... no, he deserves it. So, then, of course, he left the Co-op. So, from there on, there was not advanced any monies. But it was a working relationship. Even back to Jerome Hill. Already in 19... it was like maybe in 1961 when Jerome asked me, he said, maybe we should establish some... oh, maybe it came from me, I don't know, but grants to film-makers some small... so for five or six years, every year, I handed to Jerome a list of 12 film-makers and every film-makers got $40 every month. So, it was our sort of very humble grant system, I kept, you know, I looked, it was not only the American, it was, you know, Peter Kubelka who was on it, also I included some European film, avant-garde film-makers. And if any of them were doing better in the year that followed I took him off or her off and put somebody else. And that was very, very, very helpful. I know Peter used to always, whenever I saw him, said, oh that's saved him because that was like paying the rent and even paying for some wine to celebrate the coming in of the money. Half of it they bought wine for half of it and the other half went to paying the rent. So, it was very, very helpful. And that's about that kind of relationship, of the practical and down-to-earth. But they kept coming to me and I had somehow always to try to solve it and looking now through my notebooks and calendars of that period, and I see $5 to Harry Smith, $2 to this and that and that was some, my usual tactic was that, okay, Harry you're broke so now I will take what I have in my pocket and I will put everything on the table and I will take yours from what you have and we'll split. I was the winner in many cases, in many instances, but Harry usually had nothing left. So, much that Naomi Levin, one of the filmmakers began spreading a rumour that was really, that I was really a millionaire in disguise, that I actually was a millionaire, but I was just playing a sort of a poor man, like an eccentric millionaire.

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: Jack Smith, Jerome Hill, Peter Kubelka, Harry Smith, Naomi Levine

Duration: 4 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008