film culture part one

Camera makes Whoopee

For about a decade, let’s say 1960 to 1970 although I have no exact data, I made a point of getting a hold of the Village Voice on a regular weekly basis for the main purpose of reading the columns of Jonas Mekas and Andrew Sarris, both writing about film. Well, I was a bit of a zealot for film of any kind, the less comprehensible the better, although I loved all of it, every frame of every reel of celluloid issued by anyone anywhere. I intended to be a filmmaker, as a matter of fact, and 40-odd years later have not totally abandoned the idea although it seems less wasteful to write stories no one reads than to make films no one sees. There are 17,000,000 film and videomakers at work as we speak. There are ten time that many bloggers but all they’re wasting is a little bit of electricity.

I exchanged several letters with Sarris around 1964. I was struck by comments he made about a new, freer approach to conventional narrative film in his review of Richard Lester’s Hard Day’s Night. Christ, where are those letters now that I need them? Anyway, Sarris was among the most influential film critics in America, best known I guess for his auteur theory, before which few people considered that there was actually a singular creative vision informing the work of certain directors. It was assumed in other art forms but as far as movies were concerned everyone knew Alfred Hitchcock and that’s about it. So I am delighted to discover that Andrew Sarris, who hasn’t been at the Voice in many years, is still writing and can be found at the New York Observer. (Sarris died June 20, 2012.) 

Now, Mekas is another story. He was and is, besides a composer of film in his own right, the foremost champion and godfather of American underground, independent, low and no budget, visionary poetic film and Movie Journal was his weekly commentary and elucidation of the mainly New York avante garde cinema. It was scripture to me. Mekas has just announced (by video, of course) a plan to release a short film every day for a year, shaming my own pathetic attempt to post here daily, which I’ve vowed to do a few times. (Mekas died January 23, 2019)

My Norman McLaren box set of seven DVD’s arrived last week and I am in raptures. Raptures, I say. I’ve already announced my belief that McLaren is the greatest artist, poet, and musician of the last six centuries and the foremost creator of pure cinema. We’ve all known his films were very cool but once you’ve heard him speak, to illuminate the thought and vision that were behind the experiments and creations one staggers backwards in disbelief and joy. I tremble when I see the beautiful box on my coffee table next to the laptop on which I’ve rationed myself to watch and absorb no more than one short film in a day. This set has every scrap he ever produced, starting with early student films in Glasgow. It may take me a lifetime to see it all.

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