Half an hour into Jonas Mekas’ incidental odyssey, there’s an affectionate personal tribute to experimental filmmaker Marie Menken. Mekas, whose face is worn with experience and liver spots, waxes lyrical about Menken’s lyricism; the small, the personal, the real, the poetic. She was, he explains, along with contemporaries like Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren, doing something in the 50s and 60s that was ran against the grain of the avant-garde; making intimate films about the everyday. “Here was someone doing what I was trying to do,” he tells us.
This contextual shorthand for the structure, or lack of structure in Mekas’ film, might have served as a useful prologue, but instead we wait over 40 minutes for it. Either side there is life caught in the round – not stories in the narrative sense, but chit chat, anecdote, philosophical gubbins fuelled by red wine and spiritual chud; Jonas’ art house friends discussing the durability of the soul or how part of a tree feels like the muscles in a horse’s leg. All of this is framed, when it is framed, as an uneasy prayer to God – “praise be to Allah”. Praise be to Allah? An open meditation on life bracketed by a thought terminating cliché. It’s an interesting experiment indeed.
My problem, and dare I say the audience’s problem, is that films, or more appropriately, video poetry like this, is too tangential, too anonymous. It requires no sense of coherence, no authorial signature – it speaks for itself without having anything to say. Isn’t film at its most affecting when it speaks to you? When the filmmaker has some comment on his subjects? Mekas assumes that his life and his preoccupations are enough, but shorn of craft, shorn of art, this apes the experience of being stuck in the company of a racont-bore for two hours. You’re too polite to excuse yourself, though many others will.Pages: 1 2