['I]want to celebrate the small forms of cinema, the lyrical forms, the poem, the watercolour, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, bagatelle and little 8mm songs. I am standing in the middle of the information highway and laughing, because a butterfly on a little flower somewhere just fluttered its wings, and I know that the whole course of history will drastically change because of that flutter. A super-8 camera just made a little soft buzz somewhere, on New York’s Lower East Side, and the world will never be the same.’ Jonas Mekas.
Credited as one of independent cinema’s ‘heroes’ by the likes of Martin Scorcese, Mike Figgis and Harmony Korine, filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas has seen it all when it comes to film, and this December a retrospective exhibition of his work at The Serpentine Gallery means that we can now see all of him. The exhibition will feature work from the 1950s right up to his new unseen feature-film that will have its world premiere at The Serpentine.
Jonas fled his homeland of Lithuania in 1944 due to war, and picked up his first camera in New York in 1949 where he began filming everyday life and experiences of people in the city. He quickly established himself in the city’s burgeoning arts community and within several years was collaborating with Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg and filmmakers Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren. Hunger TV catches up with Jonas prior to the opening of the exhibition to learn about the changes he witnessed throughout his prolific career.
YOUR CAREER SPANS 60 YEARS. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST PROMINENT CHANGES THAT YOU’VE WITNESSED IN CINEMA IN THAT TIME? -FOR BETTER OR WORSE?
Firstly, I have to tell you that I never had a career in anything. The first 20 years of my life I spent on my father’s farm as a farm hand. The next ten were spent between slaving for the Soviet, then German occupants, forced labor camps and displaced person camps. The ten years after that I spent in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan doing all kinds of jobs for my survival. For the next forty years I spent most of my time and energy trying to find money for various independent film organisations that I helped to come into existence. Only in the last seven years I have been working solely on my own projects. So I could say my career is some seven years old. ButI have witnessed two important changes in cinema during my lifetime. The first one is that between 1950 and l965, in addition to a wide range of narrative film and documentary genres, cinema branched out and developed a variety of non-narrative forms which enabled it to express the full range of human experiences as do other, older arts. The second change is the technological changes in the technology of recording and dissemination of images – video, digital, computer, high definition technologies which dramatically expanded areas of content and forms of cinema and the dissemination of cinema in general.
WHAT ARE YOU PROUDEST OF?
The idea, the concept of “proud” is not part of what I am all about of what I am. I have no feelings of proudness. Telling the truth, I am very suspicious of that word and everything that it implies.
HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR WORK TO BE REMEMBERED
By new generations seeing my films and by reading my poetry.
Jonas Mekas 5th December 2012 – 27th January 2013 at The Serpentine Gallery, London. Find out more here.