About Jonas Mekas and memories

Still image from the movie "As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty"
Still image from “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty”

This Christmas holiday we watched a long part of ‘As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty‘ from 2000. The movie is a 5h (288 min) compilation of Jonas Mekas’ home movies filmed over a period of 30 years.

Jonas Mekas was one of the prominent experimental film makers from the high days of experimental – or avant-garde – cinema in the ’60 and ’70, The New American Cinema.
I first encountered his films together with those of Stan Brakhage, Bruce Connor and Tony Conrad while getting my master in audio-visual arts.

I recommend to dive into the history of experimental cinema and The New American Cinema. Though personally I always had a hang for the more theatrical and abstract stuff. Like the earlier ’50 avant-garde (a.o. Maya Deren, Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye). The beautiful short movies Samuel Beckett made in the `70 for television for the BBC (Quad, Ghost Trio, Nacht und Traume, But the clouds) are the pieces of experimental cinema that make me hold my breath (and are probably one of the main reasons I went to get a degree in stage design afterwards).

Many of the movies Stan Brakhage made, which also use the concept of a personal family diary, seemed too personal to me. As if I was peeking into someone’s live and I was not supposed to, even if the filmmaker intended it to be shown to a public.
Maybe it’s because I’m much older now, because the concept of a diary and of keeping some kind of material left-over of your memories seems to make more sense then 20 years ago, but ‘As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty’ did not once give me this feeling of intruding. On the contrary.
It’s one long poem build on fragments of someones life but manages to transcend one person, one family.
The title says exactly what it does, the movie moves along and every now and then little moments, seconds of situations jump out and surprise, give joy or make sad, without being obvious, without explanation.
It brings me much joy that things, created by someone, can be so powerful that it suddenly, with no reason can make me cry.

I made very few movies after graduating, and when I started my career in the world of the wide web, the urge for creating movies faded. I focused on photography for a while, but walking around with a camera always gave me an uneasy feeling. Even when the kids were little, we occasionally filmed moments but never much. And we took photographs but also never much. Maybe I regret it, seeing Jonas Mekas’ work, and seeing what someone with talent can make of seemingly ordinary footage.

My memories , those I have, are in my head. For many it’s too late to take a picture or film it. But that’s ok.

Update 25/01/2022 I’ve been in contact with the distributer Re:voir and I was very happy to learn that they will be reissuing Jonas Mekas’ work for his centennial this year and that As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty will be included.