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I Seem To Live ~Vol. 1- 1950-1969

~The New York Diaries  Jonas Mekas~ with entries by Adolfas Mekas

~ book designers: Fabian Bremer, Pascal Storz ~ editor: Anne König

SPECTOR BOOKS 1000pgs. illustrated; photographs; archival footage

“Immigrants to America do not ‘adjust’ to America, They rather resign to it. They live in a state of resignation.” Jonas quotes Eduoard de Laurent’s as he records the realities of his and Jonas’ new life in America. Jonas chronicles ironies, hypocrisies, dangers and triumphs as he and Adolfas were creating New York’s avant-garde film world, that eventually went international.

~Previously on ‘I Seem To Live’

– Underground filmmaker Jonas Mekas lands at Rikers’ on obscenity charges for screening Flaming Creatures, establishes the New American Cinema Co-op, the nexus for dozens of underground filmmakers~ & more movie mayhem with Salvatore Dali, Orson Welles & but still lives on coffee & starves as he establishes the most cutting edge filmmakers of the 60s Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Shirley Clarke, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Robert Frank, et. al.

~~upcoming in Part2 of Jonas’ diary~ A Song for Avila, St. Theresa ‘s roses on Time Sq. Roberto Rossellini, taking on the cops’ payoffs, film ‘Diaries’, the Warhol shooting, the birth of Wooster St. Cinematheque, Jonas’ j’accuse to the international festivals Jacqueline Kennedy’s favorite film~ Jonas Mekas’ Walden II.

Ostensibly a diary of filmmaker, film journalist Jonas Mekas ‘I Seem To Live’ a philosophical & artistic survival guide of a Lithuanian immigrant, a stranger in the strange land of New York City,  were he careened from assimilation to  self-alienated, observed, started an arts movement and completely assimilated. Part immigrant memoir, part art treatise, part philosophical manifesto of the arts vs. the world of commerce, politics and American culture.

Adolfas was back from the service and part of Jonas cast and crew for his movie Guns in the Trees, shooting on location in Manhattan, the New York countryside and New Jersey, encountering law enforcement, starvation, constant harassment by police in the city and in rural areas, for shooting without permits or on private property. Mekas’ film was re-released in New York in 2019 with a positive re-review in the New York Times.

He was also on the set of artist Robert Frank’s legendary avant-garde film ‘Pull Your Daisy’ written and narrated by Jack Kerouac. Mekas has unannounced poetry entrees including the brilliant poetic portrait of Peter Orlofsky.  (there is film of Orlofsky dancing with Nico at a VU performance with Jonas looking on has surfaced on YouTube).

Mekas may not bore his compatriots on the state of the film arts, but he records all his commentary throughout his dairies, he is, in retrospect among the most adroit observers of both commercial films in the US and the serious filmmakers and the entire post-WWII auteurs in Europe/

By the mid-60s Mekas was still running the Cooperative, planning the Cinemateque on Wooster St.  Raising money and networking for some 30 filmmakers, packaging the film ‘Expositions’ and getting them on the international film festival circuit, and still writing & editing Film Culture.

Mekas was not only major presence in the New American Cinema, he was becoming disenchanted by the whole subculture.   He had to remind the most successful directors – Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger that they were part of the collective and should not put themselves forward as representative of  NAC ourvre.

Mekas was starting to be resentful of being prevented from making his own film because he was so preoccupied with the constant demands of FC, NAC and running the Coop.

Still out of money to the point that he had to remind people that while he was working to get money for their productions, he was weak from not having enough money for food.  Still, he reports in diary, that “His colleagues who knew how he lived, treated me like I was independently wealthy.”

And Jonas was presenting Warhol’s early movies that were playing with every perception and satirical implications of ‘underground’ film. Jonas recognized that they were part of Warhol’s art revolution and living underground culture documented in ‘My Hustler’ ‘Naked Restaurant’ and Chelsea Girls.  Mekas also was involved with events with the Velvet Underground and hosted their first public performance at a convention of the American Psychiatric Association.

Jonas presented what ended up being ‘A happening’ at the Coop with Gato Barbieri’s quartet performing and Warhol’s gang, rockers, poets, literati, jazz luminaries and coffeehouse denizens. 

Meanwhile, he was also  on the scene in Europe. In London an independent film organization was forming and reaching out to Jonas to advise and collaborate as they got established.  He was more involved with the international festival circuit.  Despite complaining about being kept from making his own films as he tried to organize the co-op

He was honest with everyone around him, yet still carried everything on his shoulders to keep the underground film production, distribution expanding. He never abandoned artists he respected even if he knew they were taking advantage of his time, influence and not contributing in the spirit of the co-op.

Of the avant-garde filmmakers who were being seduced by making it big, he was just as wary.  He saw the hubris of redundancies of so called ‘underground’ films.  The pitfalls of being outrageous for outrageous same.  Meanwhile, he rejected any notions of censorship as nothing more than.

He was busier than ever. Only managing to schedule an hour or two a day to write and film his own projects. He had convictions and integrity and passion for the art form as being by design experimental, socially relevant and anti-Hollywood.

What he admired about Hollywood were the cinematographers, actors, writers  and directors who realized their vision despite the studios.  His admiration extended to such film heavyweights as Howard Hawks, Hitchcock and Welles. But mostly dismisses Hollywood as products of commercialism and trended public taste.

Jonas also is harsh to European cinemas, especially film festivals criterea for prize winners. He participated in festivals under certain conditions that supported the filmmakers. He was invited to be on festivals juries, which he turned down on principal, because judging ‘best’ films was not just absurd to him, but designed for exploitation.

Even as he was a revered film journalist for Village Voice, he was venomous to film ‘critics’ specifically and in general questioned the whole journalistic field as irrelevant to the understanding of the art of cinema. Meanwhile, he continued to work on his film projects. He was in demand internationally as a lecturer on film arts and NAC initiatives and expositions.

Jonas applied for and was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to (he lobbied for $55,000) for the purchase and renovation of was to be the Wooster St. Cinematheque, that would be a film center that would not only preserve and present NAC and avant-garde films properly, but would not be subject to any industry rules. It would be a nexus for The Film Culture community and Coop operations.

After a year renovations on the two floors the Cinematheque would occupy, the city kept closing it down for minor violations, but the real reason was that Mekas refused to pay L & I officers payoffs. Mekas even filmed them making their shakedowns, but the fix was in with judges, officers and city cronies.

As fines and shutdowns mounted up Mekas wrote of the Kafka-eque situations and some of his most beautifully poetic passages (as well as rage against the machine) fill these pages.

Jonas continued work on “My New York (or American) Testament with his later films “Walden II” “Diary” and “A Song for Avila” which he describes so movingly in his diaries. However distracted by his pioneering efforts for vanguard film arts and on behalf of the Coop’s roster of filmmakers, Jonas proved he had as much say artistically, and vitally always challenged himself not to become what he despised in the film industry, whether it was out of Hollywood product created by producers or if it was an equally exploitive arthouse film.

 Jonas as a Lithuanian refugee poet and now in print is his epic prose poem is finally in ‘I Seem To Live.’

click to go to part 1 of ‘I Seem to Live’ review~ https://alternatetakes2.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/booksbooksbooks-32/