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Barbara Rubin's influence


Speak only of what you know
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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We are in the year of 1962, the Cooperative has been created, it's there in my loft, I have been reduced to the back, back room somewhere, and we had... I had several people engaged, one after then the other, they lasted like one month or so, each to run the Cooperative. The Cooperative's a cooperative and the offices are run by hired persons supervised by the seven... a committee of seven elected film-makers. So, I had several people there and then, end of 1962 with David Brooks, young, very young person, 21 or something. He was a student still and also beginning to make films. And already the place was very busy, every evening we had screenings, the film-makers bringing the footage and already getting reputation.

Then we're going into 1963. I mean, everybody, you could meet everybody there from Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Salvador Dali coming in with his stick and Ron Rice and Jerry Joffen and Jack Smith and it was getting a reputation of a place where strange film people are gathering and showing their work. So, then, one day at the Gramercy Arts Theatre, film-makers showcase that was beginning of 1963, I think somebody by the name of Rubin and he was the uncle of Barbara Rubin, not father, uncle he comes to me and says, 'I have a niece' - would that be a niece? - 'who was just released or they're about to release her from juvenile delinquency house, if somebody would give her work and pledge a sort of supervision that she would not be side-tracked again. So, will you do it?' I said, 'Sure, I will do it'.

So, a few days later, there she comes. She may not have been more than 18, something like that, so... and she's very quiet and she's there for two or three weeks and very quiet, she does what she is asked to do, and David Brooks who has been around and seen and has taken all kinds of... already tasted all kinds of adventures and drugs like from peyote to... I don't know what, from Jerry Joffen and Ron Rice. He says, 'What, why, why is she here? She's some kind of nit-wit, she's silly, nothing... she knows nothing, she's not talking'. And then one afternoon there a was a whole gang of... a great variety of poets and they begin to talk about drugs, you know, the influence, what drugs and what their experience is and suddenly Barbara begins to talk. And I, you know, I wish I would have done more taping in those days, audio taping, but what she said made them listen to her because it seemed suddenly, this... this person of 18, 19 that they thought she was just nothing, she comes and knows more than any of them. And so they begin to listen and suddenly it changed the whole... David Brook and said, 'Who is she?' And from then on, you know, then everybody wanted to meet her.

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: David Brooks, Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Salvador Dali, Ron Rice, Jerry Joffen, Jack Smith

Duration: 5 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010