TRIBUTE TO JONAS MEKASThis program celebrates the figure of Jonas Mekas as godfather of a generation of avant-garde filmmakers whom he defended and supported from the pages of Film Culture and The Village Voice and in the sessions of the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque and the Anthology Film Archives. The community of artists and friends that surrounded Jonas Mekas from the time of his arrival to New York in 1949 is immense and kaleidoscopic, which makes the task of selecting only a few names complicated and probably unjust. This tribute is only a small sampling of the filmmakers who Mekas considered indispensable because there was poetry in their cinema and because they knew how to reflect the concerns of the man and woman of their time, a quality that this Lithuanian filmmaker considered essential for a film to have a meaning beyond its formal technique and the appearance of its images.
“In the times of bigness, spectaculars, one hundred million dollar movie productions,
I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit…”
Jonas Mekas, Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto
Program and notes by Andrea Franco and Javier TrigalesPROGRAMCHUMLUM
Ron Rice, USA, 1964, 16mm, 26 min.
The most famous of Ron Rice’s works and one of the spearheads of American experimental cinema, Chumlum is a psychedelic hedonist film focused on colour, superimpositions, transparencies and a seductive lassitude. Starring one of the faces of the underground, Mario Montez, who was also sought out for films by Andy Warhol and Jack Smith, Chumlum dialogues in a way that is natural and enriching, creating an extraordinary sensation of artistic community.
“Rice’s Chumlum has been acclaimed as a masterpiece in Brussels, in Paris, in Stockholm. Les Temps Modernes compared it to Fragonard. But New York Police and city bureaucrats will not permit Rice to show his films! They would rather see him starve to death in Mexico. I am ready to take up a gun when I think about this…” (J.M.)EYEWASH
Robert Breer, USA, 1959, 16mm, 3 min.
Eyewash is a discourse on the phenomenology of sight, concerning “another way of seeing”. Breer once defined it as a visual cleansing for our tired eyes, which put up with thousands of visual impacts a day in which each one carries information that we must assimilate. Here, Robert Breer frees the viewer from this burden and lets the flow of images blend with the flow of thought. The photograms are related to one another by geometric, rhythmic or colorimetric relationships via superimpositions, collages and pictorial impressions on the celluloid itself.
“Breer’s films do not get much public acclaim. His shows are not among the heavily attended. His films attract no noise. But they are among the best films made today anywhere. A new film by Robert Breer is an important event. Imagine Mondrian or Dubuffet or Kooning opening a one-man show in New York, and imagine all critics missing it? The premier of Breer’s 69 was exactly an occasion of such proportion. And all movie critics missed it. History of cinema will remember my words.” (J.M.)SURFACE TENSION
Hollis Frampton, USA, 1968, 16mm, 10 min.
One of Frampton’s first films, divided into three parts where the rhythm and order of cinematographic elements already function as a sort of summa of the possibilities of the experimental.
“Quite frankly with Surface Tension, I didn’t propose to attack so grand as the Sound-Image relationship. I wanted to make a film out of a relatively small number of simple elements, which would be of a piece, to see how much resonance I could generate among those elements.” (Hollis Frampton)
“… it’s the form that makes a work into what it is. It’s through the form that we perceive the content, style. The manner in which it’s done (the rhythm, the pace) reveals, tells something about the temperament, emotions, heart and lungs of the artist (your pace can be that of desperation, or that of peaceful contemplation, or…). And that’s something to think about: structure.” (J.M.)VISIONS OF THE CITY
Larry Jordan, USA, 1978, 16 mm, 11 min.
Larry Jordan filmed this hypnotic glass symphony about San Francisco in 1957 but didn’t edit it until 1978. In the film, the poet Michael McLure walks and dissolves between the folds of the fragile urban world, accompanied by the music of William Moraldo.
“If I’d have to name one dozen really creative artists in the independent (avant-garde) film area, I’d name Larry Jordan as one. His animated collage films are among the most beautiful short films made today. They are surrounded with love and poetry. His content is subtle, his technique is perfect, his personal style unmistakable”. (J.M.)GLIMPSE OF THE GARDEN
Marie Menken, USA, 1957, 16mm, 5 min.
“Menken sings. Her lens is focused on the physical world, but she sees it through a poetic temperament and with an intensified sensitivity. She catches the bits and fragments of the world around her and organizes them into aesthetic unities which communicate to us.” (J.M.)
“There is no why for my making films. I just liked the twitters of the machine, and since it was an extension of painting for me, I tried it and loved it. In painting I never liked the staid and static, always looked for what would change the source of light and stance, using glitters, glass beads, luminous paint, so the camera was a natural for me to try – but how expensive!” (Marie Menken)BIRDS AT SUNRISE
Joyce Wieland, Canada, 1965, 16mm, 10 min.
Wieland films the birds from her window on a winter morning, surviving the cold and the snow. Years later, during a trip to Israel, she remembers this material and takes it up again, now seeing in the birds half-trapped in the branches or in the water a metaphor for the suffering of the Jews.
Joyce Wieland’s intimate, homespun, feminist and politicised cinema, regularly seen in the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque, never came to be fully accepted by the community from which her work emerged, which is why its “freeverse” quality within the American underground makes her work even more pertinent and crucial today.SCOTCH TAPE
Jack Smith, USA, 1959-1962, 16mm, 3 min.
Jerry Sims, Reese Haire and Ken Jacobs (who also contributed the Bell & Howell camera) dance among the jumble of iron of what would be the Lincoln Center. Smith transforms reality, converting the debris into an exotic jungle. The film, with its povera character, emerges from the rubbish, somewhat like all of these filmmakers, marginalised by the industry, survive.
“Jack Smith’s contribution to 20th century art was his sensitivity, his world of unique, matchless images.” (J.M.)