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Learning the 'wrong' kind of cinema


Learning languages
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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There is this whole... my whole joke about languages because we, I, spoke local, my village had its own dialect, my village, there were like five or six or ten villages. Then when I had to go to the primary school I had to speak, to learn the official, literary official Lithuanian which differed, mostly in dialect, not so much in its... not only, also in its spelling and, and many other ways. Then when I went to the gymnasium or college, I had to, you know, I had four years of Latin and three years of French. Then the Soviets came in and French is no good, Latin is not necessary, now you learn Russian. So we dropped French, we dropped Latin and we learned Russian. So I had like a year-and-a-half in Russian. Then Germans marched in, said Russian is no good, German is good. So, we all learned German. Then, I ended up in Germany, in the forced labour camp, and I lived with French, Italian, Yugoslavian war prisoners and there I was in Germany. I said, ah, this is my chance now to improve my German. Then I discovered that the area, the area in which we were, they spoke what's known as Plattdeutsch, which is very special German dialect, not even Germans themselves don't understand! So I said then at least we can learn Italian from the Italian prisoners so, of course, we began to learn and, and you know, try to speak. Then another group of Italians were brought in and they are like officers, they speak pure Italian They said, 'What? What are you doing? They are not, those other Italians, they're gypsies, they're from Sicilia, they don't speak Italian, you're learning, this, what you're learning is not Italian'.

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: French, Latin, Russian, German, Italian, Sicilian, Plattdeutsch

Duration: 2 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008