Roughly a year later, like so many hopeful refugees, they sailed past the green lady in New York Harbor and settled into their lives, as poets and filmmakers. in the artistic ferment of post-war New York City. Beyond his own film making career, Jonas went on to found the one-of-a-kind library of avant-garde film, Anthology Film Archives, still thriving to this day. He lived to the age of 96, dying at home in Brooklyn In 2019.
The “Godfather of Avante Garde Film,” as he was sometimes called, was an admired, even revered, figure, a filmmaker who, in 2007, aged 85, produced one film a day, for his 365 Day Project, still available on his site.
What, I wonder, would Mekas think, as the Russians roll west? His native Lithuania is, this time, a safe harbor refugees are fleeing to, just as he and his brother fled from there to escape the Nazis.
History, I believe, is made of refugees. Empires have been overwhelmed by them (think Rome), and whole countries (the USA comes first to mind) have been founded by the dispossessed. Who knows who the first refugees in human history might have been—the Neanderthals? At any rate, large populations have been getting up and moving on since hominids walked on two feet.
In European history, the first “refugees”—the term was coined to describe just these people—were the French (Protestant) Huguenots fleeing to England in roughly 1670. Ironically, only a little earlier (1620), the “pilgrims” who founded the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, fled England for exactly the same reason.
Seeking refuge can be a great way to begin a new life. Safely in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Jonas and his brother went on to produce films, write poems and, finally, offer a kind of “refuge” to the works of talented, if obscure, film artists, who made films largely unrecognized by Hollywood or the general public.
Though I never personally met Jonas, I knew him indirectly through two sources. A long-ago mentor, Hollis Frampton, whose films are in the archive Jonas founded, sang his praises to me, worrying only that Jonas wasn’t pursuing his own work enough. That was back in 1973, the same year my husband found himself working for John and Yoko, who had founded a short-lived film company then called Joko.
Dean went to lunch at the Chelsea Hotel’s El Quijote with a party of people from Joko that included Jonas. There were some fairly big egos at that film company, but Mekas, in his quiet way, was having none of it. The impossibly clichéd topic of “best movie ever” came up towards the end of that lunch. Hoping to curry favor with J&Y and Jonas, one puffed-up self-proclaimed filmmaker said he thought that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, at that time newly released under the Beatles’ Apple logo, was perhaps the best movie of all time. A small hush fell over the table as all eyes turned to Mekas, “Well, well…Should we not consider…some of the works of, say, John Huston? Or, perhaps, Fellini?” There was nothing left to do but call for the check.
This blog is, as always, dedicated to The St. George Theatre, a 2672-seat movie palace, which I helped in running, along with my husband, Dean, and a small crew of hard-working folks, in 1976. For more about that adventure, search our archive...