Visionaries (2010) - full transcript

Documentary on Jonas Mekas and the American avant-garde cinema, with several new interviews and appearances and over 100 excerpts and examples. Detailed sequences on Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Peter Kubelka, Bob Downey, Su Friedrich, and Anthology Film Archives.

My name is Jonas.

I came from far away and I ended
up here talking about cinema.

But I don't really
know what cinema is.

Cinema is constantly expanding,
branching out into new forms.

The language is
growing and changing

and what we one day
consider "this is it,"

next day somebody else
comes in and pushes cinema

into another direction so
we are all at the beginning.

This is The Bridge in New York,

one of several small
theaters around the country

where underground
films are shown,

and their devotees range
from serious students of

cinematography to the society's
swingers of the jet set.

One of the most publicized
of the underground films

is Sleep by
pop artist Andy Warhol:

six and a half hours
of a man sleeping.

Andy, Why is it you're
making these films?

Well it's just easier to do,
it's easier to do than painting.

Well because the camera has a
motor and you just turn it on

and you just walk away and
it just takes all by itself.

I screened most of Andy's films.

At first they like are
perplexed then like get angry.

Why is this continued
because they feel

they got everything
that there is.

Because they consider
there is nothing much.

Then as time goes and those
who stay, those who remain,

they begin to relax
and the images,

they begin to work
on them in time.

It's a movie, so we're
trained pretty much to think

that we ought to get it,
and if you don't get it,

you feel like you're
like stupid,

you feel like maybe other
people around you do get it,

and until you start to
get it or until you know

that nobody got it,
there's that kind of discomfort.

You have to be more patient,
you have to be more thoughtful,

you have to challenge yourself,

even your own values sometimes,
which is not easy.

We are used to things, I think,

especially in this day and age
with television and commercials

and mainstream media and
Hollywood blockbusters

where our minds aren't used to
going there, to going that deep,

going into even
our subconscious.

Making a film like that,
you're making it for yourself,

but you are respecting
the fact that your audience

whomever that might
be also has a mind,

and thinks and has
information that they

will bring to the film as well.

It's an art of ideas.

A commonality to most
experimental film

is it doesn't require
the narrative art

for the audience to be absorbed.

Instead of rejecting it,

why don't you
ask yourself why?,

Why am I feeling this way?

Am I just frustrated that
it's not being spoon fed to me?

I felt that way myself
when I first started out.

I either was bored with it or
pretended to be bored with it,

or I was infuriated with it.

And then the more
I thought about it,

the more fun it
was to think about it.

I did believe very much
in underground films.

The trouble is people are so
used to fine groomed footage

where you don't have cuts
that jump around at all.

You don't have things
out of focus,

you don't have this bad and
that bad, everything is good,

everything is clean.

It's like living with someone
who never has to take a bath.

It's hitting different
buttons in each person,

but it's interaction
with the work.

If they leave the theater,

I didn't understand
a damn thing,

but they go have a
coffee with their friends

and somebody over there
starts talking about

what the meaning is for them,

and this person who said they
didn't understand anything

starts saying "no no no,
that's not what it was."

In other words,
they know something,

they just don't realize
how much they know.

What the hell is this?

Must be a cartoon.

It must be some symbolism.

I think it's symbolic of junk.

Uh Oh. It's a cockroach.

Is there anything special
you are trying to say
in these films?

Um, no.

When Andy Warhol was doing
his... making his films,

everybody said "oh how easy,
in the future everybody will be,

you know, doing that."

Nobody did that.

You cannot repeat Dreyer,
you cannot repeat D.W. Griffith,

you cannot repeat Hitchcock, and
you cannot repeat Andy Warhol.

If you are bored,
or if you are frustrated.

That's a part of the
original entry into the film,

that the filmmaker who
is a normal human being,

or more or less normal human
being than the rest of us

knows what a normal movie does,

and so he knows that I'll
go through a process

of getting used
to this experience.

To see this film,
be it Michael Snow,

when the reality begins to move,
or Andy Warhol or Brakhage,

one just has to permit that
reality that is on the screen

to work on you
through your eyes,

to work on your
body on your mind,

and one has to be
totally relaxed and open.

The Avant-Garde, I think,

really gets started in the
twenties with the surrealists.

The Surrealists were intent
on tapping the unconscious.

They realized that the process
of putting together images

that don't necessarily
have a linear connection is

very much like the process
of what Freud described
as the dream work.

These were not people who
said well we tell stories,

like people have
always told stories.

There just was this vibrant,
vibrant culture.

What can movies say?

Cornell was a nut job.

Cornell was my hope
to earn a salary.

He would talk to me,
the young kid,

and go into his
various complaints,

of how this one snubbed
and that one, you know.

Do you like Rose Hobard?

Great. It was so disruptive,
you know, following something,

and it would change.

I was interested in disruption,

but this was beyond
anything I had done.

Good God, you know that
was really a learning.

As I understand that
the audience's were few,

almost no one at the beginning.

Apparently they
had trouble

even getting through
the screenings.

The audiences were
mostly polite,

but occasionally
people would stick

their hand in front
of the screen,

or indicate some
other kind of reaction.

They were different.

Each one was different
from each other,

but most of them had an
extreme personal intensity,

an oppositional relationship
to mainstream culture,

as well as an awareness of
the history of art and of film.

They were however, deeply
personally engaged with a quest,

a quest that is recorded
in their films,

and of which their
filmmaking was a part.

She was enormously
important because at the

time that Maya Deren
had decided that she

was going to begin
to make films, in 1942,

the idea that you could pick up

a camera and not go through
financing, and through a studio,

and you could just pick up
a camera and make a movie.

That wasn't really part
of American culture.

Maya Deren got the first
Guggenheim ever given for film.

She convinced the
Guggenheim foundation

that film was an art form,

but much more than the
films themselves,

were the ideas behind them,

and just her enormous skill at

getting people interested
in this work.

She was this great organizer
and proselytizer.

I think Jonas learned a lot of
those skills from Maya Deren.

We were brought together because
we had a central interest,

cinema, but people had
very different ideas,

and how to tolerate each other.

It wasn't a tight club.

We were showing films, and
people were paying to come in,

and there was an audience and
Jonas was just doing this-

pushing, pushing, pushing, and
it was the right thing to do.

Jonas Mekas was in charge, and
he was the most exciting person.

I mean he just got
excited about anything.

He got excited about
just leader,

and so I decided well if he
could get exited about leader,

I'd just do leader.

And so I just did a lot of
leader, and it was exciting.

Jonas set up these screenings,

and what was called the
New American Cinema,

and still is, happened
because it was so open.

So you got busted yourself?

Jonas came down and made
sure he got arrested too.

We were young.

It was a place of refuge
for people who did not feel

that they wanted to be or
could be in any way mainstream.

I even became enough of a...

can I say a Jonas Mekasian
to believe

that one could
overtake commercial

Hollywood underground films,

so Maidstone was serious,
but I must say it flopped.

I could have bought a yacht,

opened a petcocks and sunk it,
and I'd been no worse off.

I have been working for
a living ever since,

but happily because
making that movie was a
fantastic experience.

Pick up the camera and
go out and do it yourself

is a democratic cinema,

and it's, way beyond anything
imagined could happen then.

When you start hooking images
together, the mind starts going,

the heart starts going,

and people are struggling
to create a kind of narrative.

With sounds and pictures you
can conjure anything, anything.

It's a fascination with
the phenomenon of film.

The film itself,
what is this thing?

Look at this cut,
look at this frame,

look at this stuff that
makes up the image.

And why do you think
people connect

with this film so
much over the years?

I think you're speaking
of a very small number

of people, you know.

It's not playing
at the IMAX, whatever.

Jonas came in basically
as a documentarian.

As he became involved with
the early American avant-garde,

he began to shift,
and he began using this camera,

still something like
making documentaries,

except they were
personal documentaries.

And I think what distinguishes
Jonas from everyone else

in that period of
new American cinema

was a great humanist.

I very often don't
know why I'm filming.

I walk with my
camera and suddenly

I want to film something,

and it has very little meaning

but at that moment
when I'm filming,

but I have to film it.

All the women of my village that
I remember from my childhood,

they always reminded me of
the birds had autumn birds,

as they fly over their fields.

The dominant form of my
cinema became the diary form.

Which I began already
keeping a film diary,

immediately after I
came to this country in 1949,

Since I have so little time,

being split between so
many passions and interests,

the diary form, you can
do whenever you have time,

just that day,
shoot a little bit and maybe...

You didn't bring your
camera to this?

I have my camera.

My Bolex. I have it
always with me.

There are filmmakers practicing,
working usually short forms

of cinema that produce
films very personal,

that do not deal with
any spectacular subject

in any spectacular way.

That form, those filmmakers
like Marie Menken's work,

is not very well known.

Those images that maybe tell,
are important to her,

whatever is close to her,

and has a meaning to her,

very often has meaning to us.

I am not interested
in spectacular,

in unusual, in sensational.

I only interested in
the most daily,

the most simple
activities and feelings.

One thing maybe to some
viewers is not easy to take,

what's known as single
frame activity.

We record that reality so that
it would reflect your feelings,

your state of being
in that moment

then we are watching
that reality.

You break it down into
individual frames and then

introduce a different
rhythm into it

during the moment of shooting.

Maybe it is a concentrate,
like orange concentrate,

that you can then have
a glass of water

and make orange
juice for yourself.

You mentioned there is
some deep meaning always

underneath the reason why
you chose to film something.

Yes, because I walk
with my Bolex,

and now with my Sony,

and now suddenly there
is something happening

there and I want to film.

I don't film, I mean I won't,

I live 24 hours a day, but
I film only brief moments,

maybe during that one day
or sometimes that one week.

Why do I film it?

Maybe there is a color,

maybe there is some movement
that provokes a memory,

again I am always going
back to the childhood,

and I have to film it,
I have to film it.

So that the living
through the war,

living through a DP
camp effects it

when you are walking down
2nd avenue or 1st avenue?

Nothing really
disappears completely.

It's there and you
never know what moment

and how and why it
really appeared

and will affect what
you do and how you behave,

but it's all determined
from one's total past.

I come from a farm,
I'm a country boy,

you know, that's why you see
a lot of nature in my films.

Even when I'm in the city,
filming the city,

I manage to find nature
even in the city.

And then the war. There is
the whole 10 years of war,

and post war, displaced
person camp, forced labor camps.

Of course it's there in me,

and even if I cannot exactly
know how it affects what I do,

it affects, it's, it's there.

There is no such a
thing as abstract film.

Every film is real, cinema
is real, every frame is real.

I've been making films with the
family 16mm Cine Kodak camera

since I was 8 years old,

and so I made what I
called apprentice works,

working up to Fireworks.

The film was very much
like a dream I'd had,

and I think it's a pretty close
transcription of the dream.

I had only one
seeming objection.

A woman from India said I
should be burned at the stake.

So, I don't know why,
but that was her opinion.

Here's everybody's
favorite shot.

Well, it's a very simple prop.

It's a roman candle, and it
didn't backfire, luckily.

I met this group of bikers.

They weren't like
the Hell's Angels,

they were just a
bunch of working class,

Italian-Americans who
loved to make their own bikes.

I asked if I could
make a film about them,

they said "sure."

Are you surprised at
looking back at your career

how important this
film has become?

I don't know.

The word career
bothers me because

that suggests making money.

I've never made money.

I'm definitely not
a commercial artist,

and then there is a
big contrast between

my approach and, say, Warhol.

The money came later on from
my Hollywood Babylon books,

but it isn't all
that much money.

Who made that jacket?

I made it myself.

I took it back to Los Angeles,

and a package was left
on my doorstep in a film can,

and I thought it was one of
my things coming back to me,

and then I looked at it

and it was from a
Lutheran Sunday School.

But I kept it.

I said "this can
fit right in."

I've never been
prosecuted for it.

You don't believe
the story of it

being delivered to my doorstep?

It happens to be true.

I believe you if you say so.

I have a few things
in my life which is,

I call it serendipity or
maybe a little bit of magic,

and in Scorpio Rising
it's the sign of Scorpio,

which rules machines and sex.

Do you feel you're part of the
so-called queer cinema at all?

Definitely not. I hate the term.

It's an insult and kind of
trivializing a deep emotion.

They're films by Kenneth Anger.

I don't need any other label.

It's influenced
by Aleister Crowley,

but not in a didactic way.

He believed in the sort of
undercurrents of paganism,

which are still around,

and things like
Stonehenge and Egypt

were manifestations of
it in different ways.

And how did Maryanne
Faithfull like the movies?

She put us all in jeopardy.

She kept her heroin
in her makeup box

as if it was face powder,

and I think sometimes
she mistook the heroin

for the face powder and
powdered her face with heroin.

Was there much of an
influence of drugs,

especially in the
sixties or seventies,

not necessarily in your work but
on the work of avant-garde film?

I was part of it.

Not in an over the top way but,

I think it had some influence.

It just sort of loosened
me up a little bit.

One assumes that
you're a master,

and you're well known
and you can just

pick up the phone
and call someone

and they would send over a
money order for your next film.

Is that true?

No, because I don't
have a phone.

I don't like phones.

I don't like television-
I have no television set.

I never had one,

but I do have a business
manager sitting behind you,

he has a phone.

Would you give us an ordinary
pan, smooth and so on like that.

Now, the eyes can't
actually see that way.

Anyone can try this in
their room if they try to move

their eyes steadily across a
room to make a pan with vision.

It's the impossible.

The eyes do actually
in fact instead do this.

They jump around.

If you would make that same pan
again and while you make it,

use the zoom lense very
swiftly and extremely

so that you would pick
up little bits of objects

as you make that pan.

Quick cuts.
You want to try that?

Well it would be cuts and so on,

or jerk it back and forth
even in that sense,

picking up different pieces,

bits and fragments
and putting it together.

If you are watching a TV program
like this one for instance,

and if you want to see
how much sound distracts

from your seeing something,

go turn the sound off, and when
the sounds is turned off then,

my experience is and most people
I have talked to about it that,

seeing increases immediately.

I'm threading up Mothlight,

which I think is still
Brakhage's most rented film.

He pasted moth wings
and blades of grass

and little flowers
and so forth onto

the filmstrip and then
just printed that.

It wasn't photographed;

it was just a collage
that he had printed.

And when you watch the film it's
like there's a certain kinda

feeling of as though you're a
moth fluttering around a lamp.

It's kind of beautiful.

It is not an attempt to create

an equivalent of
something I have seen.

It's an attempt to enter a
world wherein I cannot see.

The place where almost all
of us start when we talk about

Brakhage is his
theory of baby vision.

His idea that at the
moment of birth-

this child comes
out of the dark womb,

and is overwhelmed with light,

and in time color and movement.

We've just come out of a kind
of sensory deprivation chamber.

This is a very different
audience experience.

He made films because he had
to out of personal necessity,

and he wasn't trying to force
the audience to do anything.

I think his hope was to
energize each viewer's eyesight,

to cause each viewer to
see something in a new way.

Later he began painting
on film so one could say

"This are is no more real,
not film reality."

But the paint that he's using,
the inks,

it's all real and
it affects the eye,

it affects the eye,
affects us very deeply.

Each great film creates
it's own language,

and you need to
learn that language.

Try to notice it
on a visual level.

Notice color and
rhythm and texture

and all of the cinematic
qualities that are there.

He's making films that
are evoking himself,

and I just think it shows
how clear his vision was,

it never faltered.

I feel I have been
given so much,

and then I would like
to give something back.

Not a picture of a flower but

some flower that couldn't
exist except on film.

He's one of the greats, one of
the very very very greatest.

When the entertainment
value of the

vast number of films
withers away,

we'll be left with the Dreyers,
the Brakhages, Tarkofskys.

The questions of
avant-garde cinema

and commercial cinema
will hardly matter.

I've been called a crazy man,

idiot, amateur, sloppy,
a technician, a fraud.

If you want to know what
cinema is, it's Brakhage.

I very much started
within the world of
experimental filmmaking.

People like Jonas were,
they were a little intimidating,

Jonas, P. Adams, the people
from the older generation.

To me they were
historical figures,

even though there they were
right in the room with me,

but they weren't people
I would hang out with.

These were films that
took the questions of

form so seriously and so
extremely that it really

challenged all my
assumptions about film
as a story-telling device.

I wanted a story.

I wanted politics.

I wanted sex.

I wanted beauty.

I wanted, you know, adventure.

And so...
But you didn't go to Hollywood?

Right, no, I didn't
go to Hollywood

because I didn't have the money,

and maybe I'm a little
different than Hollywood,

but so it made me
try to figure out,

through my films,
how I could do both things.

I feel like my work
lives somewhere

between the experimental,
the documentary and the essay.

Sink or Swim is essentially
a film in 26 chapters

that tells the story of my
relationship with my father,

and in another sense,

Sink or Swim is a vindication
of the rights of children.

Every story in the film
is true according to me

and that's a very
important caveat

because of course all of
us have our own memories,

and our own history.

The girl's father had a
sister whom he loved very much.

As children, they lived
on a farm in New England,

and went swimming during the
summer at a neighbor's pool,

which was fed by ice
cold spring water.

His sister usually waited
until he finished his chores,

but one day she went alone,

knowing that he would
come by soon after.

It was a hot afternoon,
but the pool was deserted.

She tore off her shoes,
dove into the icy water,

and died immediately
of a heart attack.

With something like
the essay film,

there is an effort being
made to look at life,

some aspect of life,

and maybe not have the
images perfectly illustrate

what's being said,

but somehow have a sense
of the camera being used

to observe the world and then
text to comment on the world.

He wrote: "I'm just back from
Hokkaido, the northern island.

Rich and harried
Japanese take the plane,

others take the ferry.

Waiting immobility,
snatches of sleep.

Curiously all of that makes me
thing of a past or future war.

I think films like Marker's
have a closer affinity

to the world of
experimental film than more

conventional documentaries
like the Maysles or
Fredrick Weisman's.

And I really admire Maysles
and I adore Fredrick Weisman.

What somebody like Marker
is doing, yes he goes to Japan

maybe in the same way that
Weisman goes to boot camp,

but he then takes that
material and starts

to play with it and
speculates on it.

He told me that this
city ought to be

deciphered like a musical score.

One could get lost in
the great orchestral masses

and accumulation of details.

The essay film, it's that
which exists in between

the speed of the moment
where you've captured

an image or seen one, and
the moment you meditate on it.

It has moments
where you blank out.

You come back because
you have a sense

that you haven't finished
yet with it and the film

hasn't yet finished with you.

It's the kind of illusion
that only great art creates,

that you could do it too.

It's telling you
what it is to think

about even images and sound.

The desire of all
filmmakers always shackled

by the idea of their commercial
obligation is effectively

expressed because what's at
the core of the essay film

is the absolute freedom
of the creator.

Another year is passing.

In the roaring waters I hear
the voices of dead friends.

My heart's memory turns to you.









And part of the problem,
part of what is so fucked up

is that I feel most of life
is about performing for people.

It's like being the
nice teacher,

being the good child,

being the good parent,
being the good lover,

being the good neighbor,
being the good citizen you know,

And probably a lot of like
being bad also performance.

And my god my god,
I'm sick of it.

Somebody who is
watching a film is going

to have to understand
what they are looking at

and what they are listening to,

sometimes at the same time.

I just think of the human brain
and how it puts things together,

and then I hope I do it
in a way that makes it work.

Now, I'm in business.

How's your boy doing?


Yeah he's fine.
You should have reversed it,

you should have been the
actor and he should
have been the director.

No, he's doing good.

I used to change his diaper.

¶ It started last weekend
at the Yale-Howard game.

¶ Girl I saw your beaver flash,

¶ I'll never be the same.

¶ Oh no.

¶ You gave me a soul kiss,
boy it sure was grand,

¶ You gave me a dry hump behind
the hot dog stand. Oh yes.

It seemed there was
something hooked in

to whatever was socially going
on, and what the movies were.

It wasn't really
about the movies

as much as it was
about the society.

In the camera?

What is this Errol Morris?

Why can't I look at you?

Friend of mine had
a camera and he said:

"if you've written something,
lets go make the movie."

And I said,
"how could we do that?"

He says "lets find out!"

So we went out and made a movie,

and had fun and then
figured out later

how to do it and somehow
Jonas wrote about it and boom.

He's the one who
supported stuff

that was a little different.

When he left The Voice,
I feel that everything sagged.

The next one Chafed Elbows
opened at the Gate Theater

on 2nd Avenue and then
got moved to The Bleecker,

which was my fantasy to have a
film there with Scorpio Rising,

and that one lasted a long time-
for months and months.

What's going on?

You gotta draw
the line somewhere.

And actually Lionel who owned
it paid us for our films.

You know you got
a check every week,

I said "Wait a minute,
this is too good!"

These sort of little
independent theaters like

The Bleecker Street Theater why,

why don't they exist
in New York anymore?

Well this is it, and I know
what you mean, it's sad.

We're at a period of disjunct,

you know I think people
are watching plates

of familiar ideas shift apart,

and I think they are more open
to this kind of entertainment

than maybe they were
two years ago.

So you think this is
entertainment or art?

I'm here to be entertained!

Are you the Virgin Mary?

Just call me Mary.

How would you compare
coming here

to going to a commercial cinema?

Um, there's no popcorn.

This box is the target
of 46 billion dollars a
year in advertising,

and if we overload these boxes,
they won't remember anything,

but if we use creative
foreplay before we penetrate,

we'll -- Benefit?

Looks like?

Sounds like?

How many syllables Mario?

How many syllables Mario?

We'll never know.

Where were they for 25 years?

The closets, ripped up,
no negatives,

nobody cared, including me.

Why do you care?

I didn't give a fuck about
what I did then you know,

I couldn't remember half of it.

Pound. Pound is that
there were 18 dogs

in a pound waiting
to be adopted,

and if they don't
within an hour,

they get put to sleep,
and actors play these dogs.

They had a great time.

They showed it here.

But this was the first time Bob,

that anybody had
seen Pound in years.

I know.

I bought a ten
dollar copy on eBay

and I figured "what the hell,"

it's been out of print forever,
I can never seen it,

so I picked it up and it has the

time code on the bottom and
everything, but it was good.

Uhh, yes yes yes.

He knew early on that
he could be in a movie

because we used to bring him
when we made all the movies,

and one day he said
"I could do that!"

and I said "Do what?" He said
"Whatever you need."

We're living in Texas.

One night there's
a tornado warning.

That tornado scared me so
much it made my hair disappear.

Have any hair on your balls?

Did you feel that being
an independent filmmaker
makes for better films,

obviously you do,

but is it worth
the pain of trying

to raise the money and
all that kind of crap?

What you have to go through.

Yea, I guess it is.

I mean I'm happy
with these films

being brought back and
other films that I've done,

a couple documentaries and
something new I'm working on.

I'm ok. I've been to Hollywood,

and I've made
some horrible movies,

and I've been paid,
and it's painful.

Ten years out there was
the most boring time in my life,

and I thank god my son
showed up and was in them,

and I had fun with him because

otherwise it would
have been really deadly.

And that's my kid inside
my wife in this film.

That's, that's
Iron Man in there.

No wonder he had a tough time.

You know these interviews
with Hollywood directors

where they declare that
they have absolute freedom,

and this is always the
greatest amusement for me

because they have no
freedom whatsoever,

but they feel fine.

I didn't feel fine and it
cost me my social standing

and my existence for many years,

which I then still only could
rebuild when I came to America

and here started to
teach and also found

the public which liked my films
and I will never forget that.

Good Evening everybody.

My name is Steve Anker and it's
a pleasure to welcome you here

to the Roy and Edna
Disney/Cal Arts Theater.

The teachings and
films of Peter Kubelka

were not only a revelation,

they were key aspects of
what became part of the
way we saw the world.

All of his films total
seven in number

and all together
well under two hours,

but it's a body of
film which I think

will not only endure but will

continue influencing filmmakers
and lovers of art, you know,

into the distant future.

Cinema, I think, taught me
how human thinking functions.

There was a bird settled
on a very thin branch.

The branch was in the wind
and the bird come down,

and as he touched the branch -
boo buh buh buh bum -

was this noise.

And it was fantastic.

Buh buh buh bum.

And I turned around and behind
me was a car repair shop.

They had lifted a wrecked
car and dropped it.

And it had arrived just
at the moment

when the bird arrived
on the thing.

So here is my teacher,
and I came home,

told this my mother and said,

My mother said "yes, yes ok."

In film, sync is not mandatory.

It's artificial.

You may do it but
you don't have to.

Now if I do it,
what have I achieved? Nothing.

I was chosen to accompany
a kinda prestige safari
of business people,

and that they wanted
somebody to make a travelogue.

I agreed to do this
because I wanted

so dearly to go to Africa.

We came home, then I worked
for five years on this film.

Now comes the person
who is not content

with the status quo of life.

Who wants to say:

"I am of the opinion that
life should not be like this,

it should be like that."

So how do I do this?

I have to communicate
this to you.

I wanted to have material
where you see a human animal

before he acts, or she acts,
and when the acting takes place,

this divide between
being truthful,

normal and then acting.

Every one of you, at this
point in time is acting also.

We all carry a composure,

which we have to have in order
to be able to participate here.

That started to fascinate me,

and then the fact that
these elements repeat,

that they demonstrate that
practically every movement

we do, every action, every
occurrence is in cycles.

And in this film, I saw that
I don't have to do anything.

The directors of
the commercial films

have already created these
elements that repeat themselves.

We can not really see reality.

What we think, of what
we are conscious is

what we learn from our cultures.

This film is made, I thought,
for people in one hundred years,

two hundred years,
which will be my triumph

because digital will be gone,

but the film will
still be there.

Despite our nostalgia for it,

it's about learning
this other medium,

which is also really
very interesting.

I mean, it's not film.
But it's...

Are you still working in film?

I will do film again.

I'm just taking a rest.

When I came into this cinema,
I was thrilled immediately:

it's black, a great white
screen, and it's an event.

This is not an event,

it's a piece of furniture
with moving things on it.

If film goes under,
I will go under with it.

I do not believe
it will go under

because it has this
hardcore that only

film can work and no
other medium can touch.

We have a hundred years of
registering human development,

evolution on a
medium which mankind

will not be able
to afford to lose,

so this is why I think
even if it dies now,

it will have to be
reawakened and it will be.

This is where I
spend most of my time

with my friends
around table.

It is where we all work.

Robert, Robert Haller.
Our beautiful cat.

These are my two Bolexes:
like ten years, ten years.

I am now on my fifth Bolex.

Fifteen years ago I
realized that I'm stuck,

I'm beginning to repeat myself,
to imitate myself.

So I said it's time
to switch to video,

different technology because
different technology means

different content, different
form, different style.

Now we are going into
our main film vault.

We have total maybe around
sixty-five thousand films.

Maybe three quarters
consists of the films abandoned

by the labs that went bankrupt.

We brought them here from the
dumpsters, from the streets.

Here is the library.

Not films but paper materials.

There are boxes and boxes

in the basement with
books and periodicals.

The first issue of
Film Culture came out in 1954.

There were many young people
who wanted to say something,

to discuss cinema,
to write about it, to argue,

so The Time said "Why don't
we start a film magazine?"

These are Filmmakers
Cooperative Catalogues -

Filmmakers Co-Op used to
take any film if you
just deposited it.

That too, remains.

No contracts are signed, films
are listed alphabetically,

filmmakers decide
what rental price is,

and it works very well.

We go into the film archivists.

This was supposed to be my
office, but there is no space.

What are you trying to
do with those Cornell's?

Well. There's a hundred and
seventy-one of those films,

so we're about to
start with number one.

This is number one-seventy-one
as a matter of fact,

the last one, so I guess
we'll work backwards.

That would be a
Cornell way to do it.

We could roll it backwards.

How are you able to make
such a strong body of work,

and at the same time write,

do all of this,
keep all of this going?

One of the reasons why I can
continue is that I take it easy.

I survive on wine, women
and song, plus cinema.

Why are we here?

We are here to see our film.

We are one of
the 48 Hour people.

Do you know who Jonas is?

I don't.

Do you know where you are?


Do you know what they do here?

They show movies that probably
wouldn't get shown other places.

And why is that?

Uhh, Because I guess
they wouldn't make money.

There isn't so much audience
for what some people

regard as extremely obscene
work or challenging work.

Do you know anything about
the Anthology Film Archives?

Uhh, very little.

Do you know who Jonas Mekas is?


Stan Brakhage?

Stan Brakhage was um,
a video artist, I think,

who has gotten popular
only since his death

in a way and otherwise was

restricted more
to film school kids.

Um. I do sound. We made a
film in the 48 Hour Film.

Did you know
Jim Jarmusch did sound?

No, I do not.
Do you know who Jim Jarmusch is?

Do you know who Jim Jarmusch is?

Do not.

Do you know who
Federico Fellini is?

Do you know who
Stan Brakhage is?

I will.

Okay do you know
who Jonas Mekas is?

I will.

Okay. Promise?

It's not that easy to
be just like that.

It's not easy.

I'm trying.

I hope someday I
will achieve that state.

Just be.

Just be like Mitch.


This is Jonas Mekas.

He's an avant-garde
filmmaker and what you see

here is one of the individual
frames when you see a film reel.

He has taken one of
those little teeny,

tiny frames and they
have blown it up.

The collector could
actually buy the whole

forty images framed and
it's like a masterpiece.

That cost like five thousand
dollars each per... each still.

Oh I love these.

The images are fantastic.

Even the slanted sidewalk.

The only venue that I
think comes close, so far,

to what Anthology and Jonas
have done is YouTube,

and that's even
virtual you know.

It's the only place
where people exchange

ideas and visual creativity.

It's got a show all of its own.

A big show, in a gallery.

I mean that wouldn't be
possible even ten years ago.

It's a beautiful transition
for the modern art lovers

to come in and see because
these filmmakers were,

they're like
paintings that move.

It's like a poem,
it's like a haiku.

It's just a small and visible
appreciative little poem.

It's something you
don't usually see.

The meaning is open
to interpretation.

This is some of the sensation
too with the movement.

We were supposed to have a
presentation by Martin Scorsese,

but Marty's in the midst
of a post production job.

This is what Martin
wanted to be said tonight.

Anthology film archives
is forty years old this year.

A milestone for it and
the man that founded it,

and who has tenaciously worked
to nurture it, Jonas Mekas.

Now that the very
concept of an author

who is increasingly under siege,

I have to thank him for
teaching me, that is Marty,

and teaching me how to see.

And I'll second that. Jonas.

He's on fire,
and sometimes he's really off.

His taste could be terrible,

but the overall thing is
concern and care for something.

We're not talking
about nostalgia.

We're not talking
about going though the past.

We're talking about
going to the future

with a sophistication
that understands this.

We only sold three of these
four- monitor installation.

How much does it cost?

Like hundred
thousand dollars,

and I think those
are pretty cheap compared

to like Bill Viola who
gets like one million dollars

for one of those installations
which are nonsense.

This is a way for
artists to make some money

and to continue working
because otherwise

how would the artists
ever make money from this.

It's too complicated to
talk about that subject here.

But we have said goodbye to it.

It's a constant
struggle to get money.

We are supported by our patrons,

the tickets that people
buy to see films,

by those who rent the theater,

and by small donations
from here and there.

Anthology is a
non-profit corporation.

Part of keeping it going
has to do with addressing

all the attendant
responsibilities of

running that kind
of an institution.

Some cathedrals take
centuries to be built.

We still have to
build a library on top.

It will be on top or
we have a space behind.

It will be built,
it will be done.

¶ I have to sleep.

¶ I have to sleep.

¶ And I can't sleep.

¶ It's like music like this.

¶ I can not sleep.

¶ It's 2:30 in the morning.

So what are you shooting now?


But why?

Ha, ha, ha, because,
actually no reason.

...til there is anything left.

Do you think somebody
your age cares about

like Jonas' films and that
kind of avant-garde film?

Probably more my generation
than the one before.


Just cause he, uh,

It's just a very selfish,

superficial planet and I
think that there's something,

you know there's like a grain
of something pure in the
world that he has created,

and people move towards
that when they're not affected

yet by society or
they wanted to be free.

I think we were actually,

we were all
inspired by that work.

It showed us what was possible.

That there were different
ways of thinking,

different ways of dreaming,

different ways of making work,

different ways of
using the camera,

or not even using the camera,

and you could make film,
and it was low tech,

and it was close to the bone,
and you were individual.

I guess to be alone,

is to know yourself for you,

and not who you are with,
and I like that.

All my work that I have
done was trying to get back

to the state and see
life and reality as real

when I was like four
or five years old.

It was all there already,
and later, you know,

some of us managed to retain,

and others they become old at
thirty-three and they just,

you know, and the rest
is not important.

I have no idea where I am,
and I don't care.

Jonas was at the
root of all this,

these filmmakers of whom
everyone is so to speak,

a planet in himself, that
they did together something.

Jonas sort of formed the
entirety as a movement.

I followed Jonas' traveling
cinematheque for twelve years

until it became the
Anthology Film Archives.

I felt all through those years
where I would see these amazing

movies and think what
will happen to them?

And although I had
certain quarrels about
Anthology when it began,

the Anthology has
done amazing work,

and it's particularly
done amazing work

in its preservation of a kind of
film that no one else would have

preserved without
the Anthology being

there and Jonas being behind it.

He is probably one of the
purest people I have ever known,

in that what he's been
true to he's been true to.

It's never varied.

Whatever inner storms of doubt
he had I never saw them.

He loves the underground film,

he felt that was
the way of life,

and he's probably
the greatest champion

of it we've had in America.

I don't think that they are
fighting an uphill battle

any more than artists in any
other traditional mediums

have fought uphill battles.

We're used to film being
a consumable kind of
material and experience,

and we don't expect the
kind of depth and longevity

with film that we've come to
understand the other mediums.

For a great poet or
a great painter's work

to enter the culture,
more often it takes

generations for the work
to be fully appreciated.

I don't do anything unless I
feel I really have to do it,

because nobody else will do it.

Filmmakers Cooperative
was absolute necessity.

We started Film Culture because
it was absolute necessity,

nobody else will do it,

and have to, we needed it,

and to start a
cinematheque was the same.

When I got this building for
Anthology was the same,

absolute necessity
to have our home

so that nobody can dictate us,

and we need a huge space,
and down the line.

So that's how my life goes.

And is it absolute necessity
to create art also?

Yes. Yes it's
absolute necessity.

Absolute necessity.

Also to be with friends.

Friends and love.

These are absolute
qualities and necessities.