Underground Film Journal

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Jonas Mekas: Midwife

By Mike Everleth ⋅ December 6, 2007

I dug up this two-part videotaped lecture by the great Jonas Mekas delivered at the Whitney Museum in 1992. (Part One is above. Part Two is below.) I tried digging up what the occasion of the lecture was, but was unsuccessful although it seems that some sort of retrospective is going on. Whether of it’s just his own work or the ’60s underground movement, I don’t know.

Jonas Mekas gives a lecture from a podium

Thanks to his column in the Village Voice and founding both the Film-Maker’s Co-op and the Anthology Film Archives, Mekas is considered the leading proponent of underground and avant garde filmmaking. However, in the first clip embedded below, he tries to downplay his role, claiming to be merely a “midwife” since the films he championed, such as Jack Smith‘s Flaming Creatures, he didn’t create or bring into existence personally. Of course, he’s leaving out his “creation” of two influential films, Guns of the Trees and The Brig, as well as being exceedingly modest. Without his tireless, passionate work there quite possibly wouldn’t have been a “movement” at all and most ’60s underground filmmakers would have fallen into total obscurity.

The first clip then has Mekas reading from various diary entries of his, including a great parable about God and the creation of independent cinema — which given the video’s editing, I don’t know if Mekas came up with that himself or if he’s quoting somebody else — as well as a fun description of the difference between a mainstream filmmaker and an underground one.

The second half leads off with a great dedication by Jonas, followed by his description of how he got into making films in the first place. These are two really nice clips by a very passionate man.