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Learning languages


Singing folk songs was a way of life
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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That sing-songing was what I picked up from my mother who used to always sing for herself, I think I picked it up from my mother. She was always singing for herself, whatever she was doing. So, it's a combination of that.

[Q] And did a lot of people sing?

Oh, I mean, they get together and drink a lot of beer and, of course, they sing, they sing. And our house, was next to the cemetery and whenever anybody died they, the gravediggers usually come with the barrel of beer to our house, they're waiting for the whole procession to come, the coffin and the singing the hymns and they were singing right there, drinking and singing their own songs and, oh they're coming already! So they drop their glasses, leave their glasses on the table and they go to take care of all that in the cemetery. Yeah, there is a lot of singing; there is a lot of singing. I still know, I still know, I think, hundreds and hundreds of songs. When I went to Lithuania for the first time, I went back in 1971, I knew more songs, more folk songs than they knew already because between 1940 and '70, during those 30 years already, and the song culture, they knew how to sing the new Soviet songs, but the folk songs were on their way out. I still knew them and I still know them. We sang here about two days ago, my friends sang Lithuanian folk songs.

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: Lithuanian folk songs, grave diggers, beer, community

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008