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My very personal version of The Brig


Filming The Brig
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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The Living Theatre, though it was, of course, run by Julian Beck and Judith Malina, but it was like an institution, a theatre off Broadway, off... actually it was on Broadway, it was on Broadway and 100th Street, exactly, on the corner and that's where the Living Theatre was in the '50s. And they were known for avant-garde sort of experimental theatre productions, and they also gave space to film screening and actually Julian Beck himself and this is not known very much, or not known at all, I don't know how I know he made a few films when he was very young, before he even went into the theatre, very abstract, just deal with colour, practically. So I was very close and sort of following what they were doing and when they produced The Brig, since I did not miss any of their productions, and as I said, sometimes I went to see two or three times, I thought I should see it. And it was already at the very end of the running and already they had been arrested, I think charged, for, maybe it was not directly for The Brig, or for... during some demonstrations, that the play was very much attacked in the newspapers by very military people, so I thought I should take a look. So, I went and I looked at some, maybe 15 minutes of it. I said, this... I have to film it, I have to film it! Now, why I wanted to film it because like there was no, not much of a play there, but it was all action and all noise. It was a floor, for the floor, it was wooden, some boards and there was a lot of running around, walking around, it's all noise and it was very rich and noisy and movement and sort of violence, violent, brutality, sort of, very, that came through movements and noises that I thought, I said this would be, you know, I want to film it. So, I walked out and there is Julian and Judith, and I said, I would like to come tomorrow and film this. They said, yes but this is the last performance; they're closing us. We cannot even come in tomorrow; the place will be locked. And they said, why don't you stay and see, and I said, no I don't want to see the rest, I want to treat it like reality and come in like a news, newsreel guy, news guy and film without knowing what, like that I heard about this and I'm a newsreel guy and I want to come in and record it for, you know, for the news. So, they said, 'You really want to do that?' I said, we could, because we have to dismantle this place, they will let us in, in the evening tomorrow. So, that's your only chance. Okay, so I said, next day. The next day they called us and no, they did not let us in and I said, good because I could not get the equipment because I did... wanted to have a newsreel kind of equipment which is Auricon camera that records image and sound on the same track. So, they said, you know what, we can go next night, we can go in through the window, through from the street and we will do it there. So, we did and we dragged in everything to the window, we went in from the street, down through the basement.

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 Living Theatre, Broadway, Oricon, Julian Beck, Judith Molina

Duration: 4 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010