Doing the Thing We Love. Excerpts from Jonas Mekas

Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto
As you well know it was God who created this Earth and everything on it. And he thought it was all great. All painters and poets and musicians sang and celebrated the creation and that was all OK. But not for real. Something was missing. So about 100 years ago God decided to create the motion picture camera. And he did so. And then he created a filmmaker and said, “Now here is an instrument called the motion picture camera. Go and film and celebrate the beauty of the creation and the dreams of human spirit, and have fun with it.”
But the devil did not like that. So he placed a money bag in front of the camera and said to the filmmakers, ‘Why do you want to celebrate the beauty of the world and the spirit of it if you can make money with this instrument?” And, believe it or not, all the filmmakers ran after the money bag. The Lord realized he had made a mistake. So, some 25 years later, to correct his mistake, God created independent avant-garde filmmakers and said, “Here is the camera. Take it and go into the world and sing the beauty of all creation, and have fun with it. But you will have a difficult time doing it, and you will never make any money with this instrument.”
Thus spoke the Lord to Viking Eggeling, Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, Fernand Leger, Dmitri Kirsanoff, Marcel Duchamp, Hans Richter, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, Cavalcanti, Jean Cocteau, and Maya Deren, and Sidney Peterson, and Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos, Stan Brakhage, Marie Menken, Bruce Baillie, Francis Lee, Harry Smith and Jack Smith and Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr, Ron Rice, Michael Snow, Joseph Cornell, Peter Kubelka, Hollis Frampton and Barbara Rubin, Paul Sharits, Robert Beavers, Christopher McLaine, and Kurt Kren, Robert Breer, Dore O, Isidore Isou, Antonio De Bernardi, Maurice Lemaitre, and Bruce Conner, and Klaus Wyborny, Boris Lehman, Bruce Elder, Taka Iimura, Abigail Child, Andrew Noren and too many others. Many others all over the world. And they took their Bolexs and their little 8mm and Super 8 cameras and began filming the beauty of this world, and the complex adventures of the human spirit, and they’re having great fun doing it. And the films bring no money and do not do what’s called useful.
And the museums all over the world are celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of cinema, costing them millions of dollars the cinema makes, all going gaga about their Hollywoods. But there is no mention of the avant-garde or the independents of our cinema.
I have seen the brochures, the programs of the museums and archives and cinematheques around the world. But these say, “we don’t care about your cinema.” In the times of bigness, spectaculars, one hundred million dollar movie productions, I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit: so subtle, so small, that they die when brought out under the clean lights. I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema: the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs. In the times when everybody wants to succeed and sell, I want to celebrate those who embrace social and daily tailor to pursue the invisible, the personal things that bring no money and no bread and make no contemporary history, art history or any other history. I am for art which we do for each other, as friends.
I am standing in the middle of the information highway and laughing, because a butterfly on a little flower somewhere in China just fluttered its wings, and I know that the entire history, culture will drastically change because of that fluttering. A Super 8mm camera just made a little soft buzz somewhere, somewhere on the lower east side of New York, and the world will never be the same.
The real history of cinema is invisible history: history of friends getting together, doing the thing they love. For us, the cinema is beginning with every new buzz of the projector, with every new buzz of our cameras. With every new buzz of our cameras, our hearts jump forward my friends.
[This text was presented at the American Center in Paris, February 11, 1996 and first published by agnès b. as a large format, 8-page artist’s magazine inpoint d’ironie, no. 1 (Paris, 1996).]

Just Like a Shadow
As an exile, as a displaced person, I felt that I had lost so much, my country, my family, even my early written diaries, ten years of it, that I developed a need to try to retain everything I was passing through, y means of my Bolex camera. It became an obsession, a passion, a sickness. So now I have these images to cling to… It’s all ridiculous, I think. Because what I have, after all, is already fading, it’s all just like a shadow of the real reality which I do not really understand. When you go through what I went through, the wars, occupations, genocides, forced labor camps, displaced person camps, and lying in a looming potato field – I’ll never forget the whiteness of the blossoms – my face down to earth, after jumping out the window, while German soldiers held my father against the wall, gun in his back – then you don’t understand human beings anymore. I have never understood them since then, and I just film, record everything, with no judgment, what I see. Not exactly “everything”, only the brief moments that I feel like filming. And what are those moments, what makes me choose those moments? I don’t know. It’s my whole past memory that makes me choose the moments that I film.
I usually film my friends, or my family. As it happened all the people who played a central role in the life of arts in New York, during those decades, they were all my friends. And, of course, most of them were not yet famous at all. We were all involved in the same thing. We were like a large family. We knew each other, we helped each other. And of course, sometimes we argued. It was an incredible period. Why did I film it all? I have no real answer. I think I did it because I was a very shy person. My camera allowed me to participate in the life that took place around me. My film diaries are not like the diaries of Anaïs Nin. Anaïs, whom I knew, she agonized about her psychological adventures. In my case, the opposite, whatever that opposite may be. My Bolex protected me while at the same time giving me a peek and a focus on what was happening around me. Still, at the very end, I don’t think my film diaries are about the others or what I saw: It’s all about myself, conversations with my self.
[«Just Like a Shadow,» Steidl, 2000.]

Jonas Mekas was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States after World War II. He is a writer and filmmaker. He is the founder of Anthology Film Archives in New York City.

Sources: Jonas Mekas; Logos Journal; A Photo Student

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