One of the most personal and revealing films of the Beatnik avant-garde, is how Gene Moskowitz assessed Jonas Mekas's debut in 'Cahiers du Cinema' in 1961. Years later, Guns of the Trees still makes a big impression with its uncompromising combination of lyricism and anger, formal courage and anti-bourgeois rebellion - elements that resonate in the poetry recited off-screen by Allen Ginsberg, an icon of an entire generation. The plot, which is a combination of loosely related episodes, focuses on the lives of two New York couples. However, we know from the outset that twentysomething Frances, Gregory's girlfriend, took her own life. Why do people commit suicide? asks one of the characters whose lives are overshadowed by the anxieties of the 1960s: the specter of a nuclear conflict and opposition to conformity combined with a fascination with communism. Mekas finds an evocative film language for these fears. He abandons chronology, eschews key elements of the plot, confuses the viewer with sudden changes of perspective and rapid editing - it will be a long time before American mainstream cinema would appreciate these devices. In 2021, Guns of the Trees carry a surprisingly topical punch. The film’s rage and fatalism will resonate with those who protested on Polish streets in recent years.
announcing a retrospective at the 2022 New Horizons IFF in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birthday
Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) was a Lithuanian-American filmmaker, poet, activist and precursor of avant-garde cinema of the 1960s. He left his native Lithuania during World War II and in 1949 went to New York, which remained linked to his artistic activity for the remainder of his life. Mekas was one of the founders of Film-Makers' Cooperative, an independent filmmakers’ association engaged in distribution, education and exhibition of avant-garde films. Beginning in the 1950s, he recorded his everyday life on a 16 mm camera. The footage was used to create his monumental and intimate film journals: Walden, Lost Lost Lost or As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty. Mekas collaborated with counterculture icons like Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol; according to legend, he was the one who encouraged Warhol to make films. Mekas fought against American censorship and was an advocate of artistic freedom: In film we need less perfection and more freedom, he said in one interview, and his works, which he kept producing until the last days of his life, confirmed these words.
1961 Działa wśród drzew / Guns of the Trees
1964 Klatka / The Brig
1972 Reminiscencje z podróży na Litwę / Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania
1976 Lost Lost Lost
2000 Kiedy szedłem przed siebie, widziałem krótkie mgnienia piękna / As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty
2012 Ścinki z życia szczęśliwego człowieka / Out-Takes from the Life of a Happy Man