Monday, January 28, 2008

Jonas Mekas on Freedom

On p. 168, Banes outlines four aspects of freedom advocated by Jonas Mekas in his writings on underground film in the Village Voice. What were those four aspects of freedom, and what obstacles did filmmakers face when attempting to pursue them?

The first of Mekas' four aspects of freedom was "the Baudelairean content of bodily perception, often through polymorphous perverse sexuality" (Banes, 168). In other words, the ability to express oneself in a frank yet sexual manner was paramount. This was, of course, found in poor favor with the general public, and some films that expressed open sexuality were considered obscene. These films flirted with the line between art and pornography, and seemed to relish the fact.

Another of Mekas' beliefs on freedom was "the freedom of low budgets" (Banes, 168). This is illustrated through Mekas' assertion of the quality of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, which according to Banes cost a mere $300 to make. Mekas claimed low budgets were the "freedom of the underground filmmaker," as it meant the filmmaker was not tied in any way to capitalism or greed. Also, in a strictly fiscal sense this proved useful, as a profit was all but guaranteed, though it did not detract from the art of the piece itself. Finally, this meant that the artist was forced to be creative when using his/her miniscule budget. This encouraged the artist to be radical, different, and just simply artistic.

A third of Mekas' beliefs on freedom was the rise of female filmmakers. Mekas believed these directors brought a new kind of sensibility to filmmaking. As Banes puts it, Mekas "predicted that these women would liberate cinema from the machismo of industry production" (Banes, 168). He went on to say that bringing women into cinema meant that notions of art were changing, and a plethora of other ideas and viewpoints were being added to the mix at an exponential rate. Women, he said, would inspire a sort of democracy in the filmmaking world.

Finally, Mekas saw freedom in the "liberation of cinematic technique" (Banes, 168). In other words, Mekas believed that cinema was not bound by the strict conventions of Hollywood filmmaking. Narrative filmmaking did not necessarily have to follow a simple A-to-B approach. The Avant-Garde prided itself on implementing filmmaking techniques to alternative effects, and Mekas suggested that this was a means for people of the era to express themselves in new directions with new things to say.

Ultimately, the point is about personal freedom, and the art of filmmaking allowed for this in a way never seen before. It allowed for movement, imagery, and performance to dictate the message or theme that was conveyed to the viewer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


"In the chapter "Equality," Sally Banes outlines three ways in which the ideal of equality guided artistic activity in the Greenwich Village art world. Explain these three areas of influence (see subheadings for the chapter) and relate them to the films we've seen so far."

1) "Equality Levels Differences" - This essentially says that no one part of the body or part of the world should hold artistic priority over any other. As Banes puts it, "There may have been differences, but there was equal opportunity for all." We can see this ethos in practice in films such as Yoko Ono's "Four", which offers the viewer an up-close look at a series of naked rear-ends. Male, female, toned, flabby, none of these criteria matter, as we are shown all kinds of behinds in all of their unpolished glory.

Andy Warhol even incorporated this into his lifestyle, as any person entering his Factory community would eventually find their way into his art, be it painted canvas or on film. Much like Ono's "Four", Warhol's film "Kiss" features several different people kissing on-screen. Most, if not all, of these people were undoubtedly members of Warhol's inner circle (or even his periphery).

2) "Equality Celebrates the Ordinary" - Just as how leveling difference allows for anything to be considered art, this takes the next step and actually relishes that 'anything'. Pieces such as John Cage's 4'33" level the playing field, so to speak. As with the previously mentioned Cage piece, ambient sound is allowed the same privilege as the composer's work, and even becomes a part of the composition.

On film, this practice can be seen in many of the Flux Films by George Maciunas and Yoko Ono. In "Eye Blink", a simple blink of the eye becomes an exercise in witnessing the human face in action. At two thousand frames per second, an eye blink lasts for minutes, forcing the viewer to take in and study the simplest of motions. Failing that, the viewer then might begin watching the film grain, among other things, in order to pass the time until the blink is complete and the film is over.

3) "Equality Creates Model Structures - Here, equality encourages the use of disparate images or items to create new concepts of art. The sculptures of Robert Rauschenberg are prime examples of this, where objects such as stones, pillars, and tires are incorporated into his art. As Banes describes this style, "The format evokes a mental landscape, a grab bag of unconscious memories and experiences that seem of equal importance." In other words, this art still stirs emotions and brainwaves in the viewer, just through a different series of correlations and understanding.

A good example of this on film might be Paul Sharits' film "Dots 1 & 2", in which frames of black and white dots are juxtaposed continuously on film. Separately, they are simply two dots. But as they are arranged on film, they create a mesmerizing blend of color, shape, dimension, and pattern. This structure allows for an almost infinite number of possibilities, as almost anything can be turned into an experimental film if edited properly (see "Word Movie", also by Paul Sharits).

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Cry 'movies', and let slip the dogs of ... um ... movies.