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.

1 comment:

jimbosuave said...

Good work on Banes. Take a stab at some of the Greenberg questions or the Cage/Perloff questions.

Also: Now that you've outlined these pursuits of freedom, do you think the films actually have a liberating effect (now that you've seen them)?