Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jonas Mekas in London

I have not been publishing much lately, although I have been busily attending events. Is it my Twitter dalliance? My studies? I shall have to evaluate at the end of the year. But, I do retain a fondness for blogging.

So, back to the topic at hand. Filmmaker/archivist Jonas Mekas has two London celebrations at present. One is a retrospective of his films, as well as some Anthology Film Archives selections, which is on at the BFI.

The other is an exhibit of films and installations at the Serpentine, which is where I met him yesterday. I had a good look around the week before at the press preview, but as the exhibits were lacking captions, I wanted to have another viewing before our interview, and I am glad I did, because some of the captions contained his own explanations for the works on show. My eye was particularly taken by a quote stating something to the effect that he has a happy knack of forgetting all that is unpleasant and retaining only that which is beautiful. A funny thing to say, considering one of his new works, Reminiszenzen aus Deutschland, is a recollection of his time in forced labour camps during the Second World War.

But, there is no doubt he prefers to dwell on the delights of nature, the familial and the pleasing on the eye, with a sprinkling of New York Beautiful People thrown in. His newest work, finished two days before the Serpentine opening, Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man, is a compilation of beautiful images, "with no purpose", as his characteristic voiceover repeatedly intones. It is a curious work, quite nostalgic and sentimental in tone, perhaps the summing up of a life on film, which he gave up shooting in preference to video in 1989. This explains the considerable youth of his angel-haired daughter Oona.

Nevertheless, the present and future were also under discussion when we met in a back room at the gallery for a 30-minute chat, for a forthcoming piece in The Quietus. It was not the easiest conversation, as the filmmaker, about to turn 90, was not in the most ebullient of moods and didn't appear especially interested in my line of questioning. But, he did offer some insights into Reminiszenzen and his fondness for Lithuanian folk art. And I didn't miss the opportunity to ask about his disagreements over form with Maya Deren, who turns up as a passing mention in one of the AFA films at the Serpentine. Apparently, she kept her unfinished films in coffee cans. Gives a new meaning to "film grain".

Here is an excerpt from Walden-Diaries, Notes and Sketches.

Walden - Diaries, Notes and Sketches by Jonas... by microcinema

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