Remembering Jonas Mekas: Artist, Poet, Filmmaker Who Died Recently
The world has lost Jonas Mekas, a highly regarded filmmaker, poet, artist and critic. Mekas had earned the tag of ‘The Godfather of Underground Cinema’ in the Avant-garde genre in particular, working in a way that was creative, personal and unique.
Mekas, born in Lithuania and a survivor of a Nazi labour camp, died aged 96 on January 23, at his New York home. Mekas, the artistic director of the New York Centre for Film Preservation, became a top filmmaker, director and documentary maker in New York City.
Jonas Mekas has been called ‘one of the most inspiring artists ever’. Using film in the same way others use a diary, Mekas changed the rules of filmmaking. Rather than simply recording scenes of everyday life, Mekas captured fleeting moments of people and their lives. He recorded family, friends and strangers, worked closely with Jacqueline Kennedy and Andy Warhol, and was deeply admired by Martin Scorsese, Franco and John Lennon.
When the news of Mekas’ death was announced, Martin Scorsese paid tribute to his dear friend and colleague, calling him a ‘prophet and an ‘impresario’. He said that nobody has been more committed to the art of cinema than Mekas, and he will be missed dearly.
Not only was Jonas Mekas a highly revered documentary-maker, he also was a regular contributor to the Village Voice, opened the Anthology Film Archives, and published poems, films and videos. Mekas never achieved public adoration, for that was not his aim. He preferred to stay ‘underground’, focusing on art, never aiming for the world of commercial movie-making.
Mekas filmed Jacqueline Kennedy and her family, a rare feat of sorts, for the Kennedy family fiercely held on to their privacy. He worked closely with Andy Warhol on the underground classic Empire. Besides working with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, he was also good friends with them.
Jonas Mekas never won an Academy Award, although he might be recognized for an Oscar this year. It is also unlikely that he ever craved that recognition. Mekas worked to his own tune, marching to his own drum roll, an avant-garde artiste all the way.
The maverick filmmaker will be missed by art lovers and his family. His work, however, will continue to live in our hearts, immortalized by his words and films.
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