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Out-Takes From the Life of a Happy Man a film by Jonas Mekas. 2012, USA, 68 min. An essential and elegiac 16mm diary from underground cinema’s treasured poet.

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As we close the last decade and enter the new, we’d like to pay homage to the transcendently wise, generous and free work of Jonas Mekas – who passed away January ’19 and would have celebrated his 97th birthday last week. The last of his celebrated “diaries”, Out-Takes From the Life of a Happy Man combines material culled from 40 years of nearly daily shooting. In it we find innumerable fleeting impressions, intensely poetic images and something like a guide to living and creating.

 

The critic Amy Taubin, a dear friend of Mekas, has called Out-Takes his “most essential film”. She appears in it, alongside many others he knew, loved, and celebrated. We see the writers Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and experimental filmmakers Ken Jacobs and Peter Kubelka, but it is the moments with his family that are the film’s most touching: his brother Adolfas, his wife Hollis Melton and their children, Oona and Sebastian. Jonas himself often appears – the camera turned on him by his friends – and he is, as promised, ecstatically happy. Perhaps the key to this happiness is his belief, spoken in halting voiceover in this film, that “Every image, every detail, everything is real, everything is real and it’s not a memory.”

 

 

“A motion picture composed of brief diaristic scenes not used in completed films from the years 1960-2000; and self-referential video footage taped during the editing. Brief glimpses of family, friends, girl-friends, the City, seasons of the year, travels. Occasionally I talk, reminisce, or play music I taped during those earlier years, plus more recent piano improvisations by Auguste Varkalis. It’s a kind of autobiographical, diaristic poem, celebration of happiness and life. I consider myself a happy man.” JONAS MEKAS

 

Born in Lithuania in 1922, Jonas Mekas wrote poetry from an early age. After escaping from a German labor camp during WWII, he studied philosophy at the University of Mainz. In 1949 he emigrated with his brother Adolfas to New York City, where they began making films with a 16mm Bolex camera. In 1954 the brothers founded Film Culture, the magazine which first introduced auteur theory to American audiences, and in 1970 Jonas became the first director of New York’s indispensable Anthology Film Archives. Having directed dozens of his own films and fostered the work of hundreds of others, Mekas’ contributions to cinema are immeasurable.

 

Many thanks to RE:VOIR and Sebastian Mekas for making this screening possible.

Credits for
Out-Takes From the Life of a Happy Man
cast
Friedl Bondy, James Broughton, William S. Burroughs, Richard Foreman, Robert Frank, Ken Jacobs, Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas, Oona Mekas, Sebastian Mekas & Hollis Melton
written by
Jonas Mekas
cinematography by
Jonas Mekas
music
Auguste Varkalis
editing
Jonas Mekas