Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania

Jonas Mekas
Director: Jonas Mekas
Length: 83 min.
Format: VHS
Date Viewed: 8 February

Imagine watching 83 minutes of some stranger's home movies. This stranger shot some film in the 50s of fellow Lithuanian displaced peoples that settled in New York after WWII. Twenty years later, he goes on a trip to his old home to see his mother who he hadn't seen since he fled the Nazis during the war, all the while shooting film, and adds it to his 50s footage. The footage is all hand-held, and is so shaky it looks like your average Michael Bay film.

Now imagine that the "director" edits the film as if he was a jackrabbit on uppers, and almost always keeps this film sped up to a minimum of 2x (this is done presumably because 166 minutes of his footage would lead most of us to emptying the nearest bottle of sleeping pills down our gullet). Sometimes he'll provide his own poorly dubbed voice-overs, almost always telling us exceedingly banal trivia and reflections about his trip - though admittedly a couple things he says are of interest. Other times, he'll put music over the footage at odd times, and stop it dead at other odd times (and you can always hear the start/stop click of the tape player it came from). Finally, he throws in a shot of a white box on a black screen occasionally throughout the whole film for no reason. Now guess what. You don't have to imagine this any longer, you can simply watch Jonas Mekas' Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania, the most amateuristic "documentary" by a professional filmmaker I have ever seen. Or better yet, don't watch it. Run very far away from it.

Some people are fantastic at making stories of the mundane come alive through the proper use of detail at the right moment and by having a natural storytelling ability. Mekas posseses neither or these traits, and so, it can only be assumed that he was simply lucky that the first three minutes of the film, a discussion of when he realized America was his new home, is so good. From there, the film goes downhill fast and never gets any better. There is no point, there is no conclusion, there is no ending (the film simply stops and the copyright comes up).

The only thing the film really has going for it is that it inspires a debate on what can be counted as a documentary. Can splicing together your home movies with no purpose, no storyline and no ending really be called a documentary? Many critics say yes, at least when it comes to this film, and some have even gone so far as to call Mekas' work "film poetry" (Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader). Personally, I say no. I don't think this can be called a documentary. If it is, then anybody who has ever filmed a family event with a camcorder should be able to slap a copyright on it and throw it into theaters. Mekas shoots, narrates, and records audio with all the skill of your average suburban father, so why not put the video of our family's Christmas, 1985, into a local cinema? Maybe we can fool prominent critics into thinking it's "film poetry."


Post a Comment

<< Home