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The Film-Makers' Cinematheque


The controversial trees at 80 Wooster Street
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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I don't see most of New York, I am... I restrict myself to a certain little area and I am familiar and like that area and then you notice... I think one of the most beautiful trees in New York is just in front, across the street from Anthology, on the corner... one of the most beautiful lush, with a great crown and that's Nature. And we were with August my friend, film-maker, painter, poet. We were so angry we have not forgive... forgiven yet to that Manhattan mini-storage place. It practically killed the tree on 2nd Avenue and first corner before the second street by stupid people, they did not like the grass growing there, they wanted a tree, nice tree and they put cement on, so that the water could not get there or nothing. See, but by the time we noticed that, you know, that it was... the tree was trying to survive, but it's dying so we ripped off everything to keep the tree going, but it's dying... poor tree.

And of course, we planted with George the first two trees on Wooster Street, in Soho, the first two new trees, it was forbidden, industrial manufacturing area and George found that they were levelling out some garage space on... further on Wooster Street. He said, 'Let's...' One night, he said, 'Let's go and get...' Actually, he went during the day and he saw two little trees there, you know, just little ones and he said, 'Oh, can I take them because they were destroying them, dumping them, carting them away'. 'No, no you cannot get them'. So at night he said, 'Let's go and get them'. So, we went and we got them and we planted them in front of 80 Wooster Street.

And next morning, I got up, I woke up and I see police, there are a couple of police people, I think it was one woman and a man, and they're looking at our little nice trees. They say, 'Who's in charge here?' So, I said, 'I'm, sort of, you know... what do you want?' 'But this is illegal, you have to... these trees have to go out. This is illegal, you cannot do that, you cannot plant trees on this street'. So I said, 'Okay, we'll go and tell this to the owner of the house'. So, I go to George and George is just getting up and grumpy, and... 'Tell them they can take them out themselves'. So I go but before I go I pick up my Bolex. So, I go out and I said, 'The owner of the house says he does not want to do it. If it's illegal, if you don't like it, you can take them out. And he asked me just, you know, for him to make a record, to film'. So, they looked at me, they looked at my Bolex, they turned around and never came back. And the trees are growing and they're big and nice. Now there are some new trees already planted, but they're very young, that's recently. They are the most photographed trees probably in Soho and most pictures... the Japanese, they come every few years and for the Japanese like very much trees. So, they... I have to go always with them and tell the story from the beginning and they put those stories in the papers, every few years, they follow the growth of the trees in front of 80 Wooster Street.

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: 80 Wooster Street, New York, George Harrison

Duration: 4 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010