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Anarchist, filmmaker, author and poet

CHRONICLE / Lithuania is in many ways the documentary nation among the Baltic countries. A focus at the Cinematheque in Oslo is this weekend Jonas Mekas, with exhibition and films.


Jonas Mechanical was born i 1922 i Seminars i Lithuania and died in 2019 in New York City – 97 years old. He was a Lithuanian-American filmmaker, artist, poet, founder of the Anthology Film Archives in New York, and a leading figure in American avant-garde film. I first became aware of him via the Oslo Film Club, which showed his gripping and groundbreaking film The Brig in the late 1960s. Several of his films were later imported to Norway by the film club's passionate souls Tore Erlandsen and Kjell Billing. A selection of photographs from his long and unique work as well as his film Memories of a journey (1972) will be shown at the Cinematheque this weekend during Baltic Film Days.

Towards the end of World War II, Jonas and his brother Adolfas were arrested and placed in a German concentration camp in Elmshorn west of Hamburg. After the war he studied philosophy at the University of Mainz in Germany, but in 1949 the brothers moved to New York City. There he became from the 1950s a leading figure in the experimental film, both as a filmmaker, organizer and spokesman.

Mekas in New York

He became best known for his diary movies which was built on an improvised aesthetic, where he focused on daily life in the small perspective. He filmed more or less constantly and selected some clips that he put together later. You can often see pictures of a young and smiling Mekas with his 16mm Bolex pull-up camera from this time. His style became playful, humanistic and portrayal.

More familiar faces from New York's artistic community is seen in the films; Andy Warhol (with whom he has also collaborated), Yoko OnoJohn LennonAllen GinsbergNorman MailerGeorge maciunasSalvador Dali og Nam june paik.

Excerpt from the exhibition in Oslo at the Cinematheque.

In 1955 he founded the magazine Film Culture, which existed for over 40 years. Between 1958 and 1975 he wrote about film in the New York newspaper The Village Voice. He founded the distribution agency Film Makers' Cooperative in 1961. In 1970, he created the Anthology Film Archives in New York, which has over 120.000 film titles in its archive. Hilde Heier is one of the few Norwegian filmmakers who has had her films shown in this mecca of film art.

In the early spring of 1964 he filmed The Brig, originally a theatrical performance written by Kenneth H. Brown and staged by Judith Malina and Julian Beck for The Living Theater in New York. The Brig became the last major performance that the theater staged in New York in the 1960s. Jonas Mekas filmed the entire performance with a handheld camera during one night. Later, Adolfas cut it into a complete work in just 68 minutes, as the film was almost unbearable to watch. The film and the performance take place in a naval corps prison where the guards break down the prisoners with violence and screaming orders. This black-and-white film, with its suggestive sound processing, depicts first and foremost how a prisoner, played by Warren Finnerty, breaks down almost into an animal. The film won the award for best documentary at the festival in Venezia in 1964.

Mekas in Oslo

In 2005, Mecca represented Lithuania Venice Biennale. In 2009, he visited Oslo, invited by the Office for Contemporary Art, with a film series dedicated to the theme Whatever happened to Sex in Scandinavia? In this connection, he was interviewed by the film researcher Jon Inge Faldalen for There he stated, among other things: "'Andy Warhol's art took iconic images that everyone could recognise, such as Mao or Marilyn Monroe, and painted or filmed them. I suggested we film the Empire State Building and he liked the idea. Today this would be easy, but no camera could record more than 30 minutes at the time. The camera was fixed on a tripod in the same setting, so that there are no changes in the section. However, there was a window between Rockefeller and Empire, where you can occasionally see me reflected', he laughed.

Empires static style differs from Mecca's earlier, documentaries with restlessly fleeting faces, gestures and sounds. "Many of my films are one long shot, and sometimes I do not move the camera at all. The essential is what happens, and I allow the camera to just see ", he says.

Mekas has had two periods in his artistic work: Med Bolex-camera, he could manipulate the rhythm of reality with changes in speed and light – similar to jazz improvisation. With the video camera, he changes neither the speed nor the light.

Mecca's latest production, Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR (2008), illustrate the transition between these periods.

The Jump

In the footsteps of Mecca

Lithuania is in many ways the documentary nation among the Baltic countries. Director Giedre Žickytė, known for a film adaptation of The Master and Tatyana – shown at the Baltic Film Days a few years ago – works in the spirit of Mecca, with human, ongoing and intense images. The film days show i.a. his The Jump, which describes an incident from 1970, in which the Lithuanian sailor Simas Kudirka, jumps on board an American coastguard ship from his own, and asks for asylum. This became a much talked about and delicate matter during the Cold War.

The Cinematheque is showing Tod Hayne's Cannes documentary Velvet underground
in the period 15 – 21 October – dedicated to Jonas Mekas!
See Baltic Film og

Jan Eric Holst
Jan Erik Holst
Holst was educated at the Department of Film Studies and later at the Dramatic Institute in Stockholm. He has been a film club leader, cinema director, film critic, film producer and university and college teacher in film and director of the Norwegian Film Institute from 1988 – 2014.

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