Based on Jonas Mekas’ new work, those eager to pigeonhole experimental film artists of the ’50s and ’60s as culturally dated will have to re-evaluate their judgments. Just as fellow avant-gardist Ken Jacobs’ “Star Spangled to Death” marked an important statement by an original American radical, the 83-year-old Mekas, anacknowledged godfather of Yank experimentalists is still making significant films, as evidenced by video diary “A Letter From Greenpoint.” Though it may not win many new converts, appreciative response at the Buenos Aires festival indicates a warm welcome at the Venice Fest, where Mekas will rep his native Lithuania.
Armed with a tiny vid camera, Mekas thinks of himself as a “filmer” — as opposed to a filmmaker — directing his lens at the small details of life around him that suggest something greater. His intro to a recent exhibit of his work, “Celebrations of Small and Personal in the Times of Bigness,” also serves as an entry into “Greenpoint.”
Pic started as a daily recording of Mekas arranging the massive move in January 2004 of his studio and home to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood from the Soho address that had been his location for the previous 30 years. Result can be thought of as a bookend to his 1978 diary film, “Lost Lost Lost,” which considered his circumstances moving from Brooklyn to downtown, and his life that had led him to that point.
“Greenpoint” is less reflective, and more immediate, giving it a vitality that may even surpass his stunning and equally personal four-hour-plus “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty.”
The apparently orderly and efficient move happens in pic’s first section, titled “Farewell to Soho.” Part two, “Greenpoint Brooklyn,” contains a fluid string of glimpses of his new neighborhood, from a nearby Lithuanian church (filled with congregants) to a local bar where Mekas and jolly assistant Nico become regulars. “A Drunk Lithuanian in Greenpoint” is the apt title of last section, which sees Mekas and Nico drinking and singing in the new digs, or, in more sober moments, Mekas suffering from insomnia.
Music becomes a major motif in the film, including a tribute (of sorts) to Norah Jones.
Considerations of death, transition and discovery course through “Greenpoint,” with Mekas getting into funks from time to time and sounding like Mark Twain. (“I am disappointed in humanity.”)Vid work in black and white is intentionally low-end, in same visual spirit as Mekas’ rough-and-ready Super 8 and 16mm film from the past. Per usual, pic is without credits, with only Mekas’ name and copyright date.