Pin It

Jonas Mekas's anthology film archives

The Lithuanian-born NYC filmmaker and poet finds solitude in the heart of the city

Taken from the December issue of Dazed & Confused:

In 1966, Lithuanian-born NYC filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas was on the cusp of turning cinema upside-down. In between writing for the Village Voice and setting up what would become the world-renowned Anthology Film Archives, he was making Walden: Diaries, Notes and Sketches (1969), from which this still of Mekas at his Manhattan window is taken. Walden, named after the nature-immersed 1854 book by transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau, was the first of the collage-like diary films that would see him hailed as the godfather of American avant-garde cinema. Alongside family and friends, the film featured such New York luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, providing a vivid snapshot of the period’s artistic and political intensity. Mekas will turn 91 on Christmas Eve. His camera still goes everywhere with him and he regularly posts new films and projects on his website.

“I was living on 89th Street in Manhattan. It was the summer and New York to me was like (Thoreau’s) Walden: I felt so much nature in it. That is why I called the film Walden. In Lithuania I grew up in nature, always in the fields, the sun. I liked the summers of New York when everybody left. New York to me in 1966 was like being in nature. I walked the streets but did not see the city. Then I came home and I was still full of sun, standing there and thinking and meditating.

Filming is a kind of meditation. I don’t know why I film but I have to film. If I didn’t film or write I would go crazy. It’s not separable. That’s my life. What one does is one’s life. It’s in my nature to record life around me, my friends; to make notes with my camera or my pencil or my typewriter. I’m going through life like an anthropologist, making notes about what’s happening around me as I proceed. I am making notes on contemporary life. 

In the past we talked about the seven arts; now cinema is the eighth one. There was a reason why cinema came in. It helps us to grow. For the first time we can go back 100 years and see how people dressed, how they behaved, how they moved. Cinema is part of our human memory. We have to do everything to preserve it and not permit it to disappear.

Walden is what I’m leaving behind. All my films are the tracks of my past that I walked through, lived through. Call it memory, call it past, like skins of a snake. The snake changes its skin and all around are bits of old skin. I am that snake that moves forward.”

Walden: Diaries, Notes and Sketches is part of Anthology Film Archives’s Essential Cinema Repertory collection, which screens throughout the year.