Mekas on Underground Film and the Mimeo Revolution

I just finished reading Jonas Mekas’ Movie Journal.  But despite reading Daniel Kane’s We Saw the Light and seeing Ed Sanders’ glyphs depicting the full scope of his total assault on the culture, I never fully appreciated just how closely related New American Cinema was to the Mimeo Revolution.  8mm films as a form of mimeo publication.  The importance of approaching Heliczer as both publisher and filmmaker, of the Couch cover of the Mad Motherfucker Issue, of the movie reviews in Kulchur.  My blindness in part stems from the fact that I just have not seen many of the films Mekas discusses.  One film I have seen is Pull My Daisy.  So I was aware that directors Frank and Leslie’s film jumpstarted New Cinema and its stars Ginsberg, Kerouac and Corso kicked out the jambs in terms of the New Poetry.  I understood that in both cases artists took control of the means of production and distribution, but early in Movie Journal, Mekas makes explicit the incestuous relationship of underground movie and Mimeo Revolution in a simple, obvious way that was nonetheless a revelation. 

The young works of the New American Cinema are criticized for their roughness and for their technical imperfections.  Do we read books only because they are perfect works of art?  In Yugen No. 6 there are some thirty poems by some twenty young poets, and they are all good.  Now it would be stupid to say that there are today – and in one magazine – twenty good poets.  As a matter of fact, there isn’t a single Blake in this magazine.  Nevertheless, there are some great things in Yugen No. 6.  And in the same way there are some great things in Come Back, Africa, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, Shadows, and even in such a bad movie as Private Property.  Art feeds on margins, we could say.  As Yugen is the living frontier of the New American Poetry, so these movies are the living frontier of the New American Cinema.  (“How to Transcend Art” – May 11, 1960)
Mekas merely reinforces something I had pushed to the back burner of my mind.  Now I have to get cooking on watching the films.  Why Yugen No. 6, and not Semina 4 or Evergreen Review No. 2 or for example?  I, and possibly Mekas, was drawn to one poem and one poet, not twenty.  In particular, Jack Kerouac’s “Rimbaud”.  Mekas’ first Movie Journal entry reads:  “There is no other way to break the frozen cinematic conventions than through a complete derangement of the official cinematic senses.”  Kerouac spoke the first words of the New American Cinema in more ways than one.



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