Lost Lost Lost & Walden | Blu-ray Review
Just before the start of reel 5 of Lost Lost Lost, Jonas Mekas‘ memoiric rumination on the memorial tolls of immigrant exile, he explains in simple terms his artistic propulsion – “It’s my nature now to record. To try to keep everything I’m passing. To keep, at least, bits of it. I have lost too much. So now, I have these bits that I have passed through.” Having escaped the clutches of the world war encroaching upon his mother country of Lithuania in 1944 only to have been stopped midway through Germany and imprisoned in a labor camp with his brother, Adolfas, until their eventual escape months later, one can only image how deeply ingrained this sentiment truly is for the filmmaker. Having endured so much in this brief period before he and his brother emigrated to America in 1949, it is a wonder that his art, and particularly the avant-garde diary films like Walden that he became famous for, overflow with a ferocious love of life and a need for human connection.
Having embed himself in the artistic heart of the New York underground scene of the ’60s and ’70s, and taken central roles in both the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque while hanging with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Shirley Clarke and so many others (all of whom grace the screen in Mekas’ personal kaleidoscopic epic Walden), Jonas began to live with his trusty Bolex in hand, shooting anything and everything in an attempt to harvest these images and grant us as viewers the opportunity to pass through his own moments with the emotional impressionism of Monet and Van Gogh via the cinematic realism of the streets of New York City. Shooting without the constraints of traditional narrative structure, his films began to meander like lines of poetry, darting from one fascinating image to another in wild hand held whips or rapid fire edits, often returning to familiar thoughts or visuals, but never dawdling on them.
Originally part of a series titled Diaries, Notes, and Sketches in which bits of Mekas’ daily life, travels, various parties and events he attended and beyond were documented in hyper speed, undercranked 16mm footage and assembling it into kinetic scenes that often still maintain traditional scene structure – establishing shot / medium shot / close-up / reverse close-up / medium shot / etc – in what would result in Walden. The stylistic result was a wash of remarkable images – the circus, weddings, smoke stacks against the setting sun, The Velvet Underground’s first performance, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in and so many others – that astound in their compounded form but never overwhelm thanks to their visual elegance and subtle use of traditional scene structure. Its often as if Mekas is trying to replicate memory recall, scanning our own mental archives for a specific image, sound or feeling, each one flickering in our brains for a fleeting moment before its gone.
If Walden is a sort of frenetic celebration of life in the moment via the riotous collage of color, music and image, then Lost, Lost, Lost treads back toward the past, allowing the filmmaker to ruminate on his own misgivings with he immigrant experience. Rather that shooting through vibrant footage in fast forward like much of his work of the ’60s, here he allows his monochrome vérité scenes to mostly play out in real time with his own bracingly honest, heavily accented voiceovers to contextualize the imagery on screen. Though almost always brief and mildly cryptic in voiceover, Mekas reveals his anxieties about the scenes he displays, occasionally deconstructing them into formally playful snippets, or cinematic haikus as he refers to them within. Heartbreaking as the film can be, his excitement about the potentials of art remain at the center, brimming with ideas.
Kino-Lorber’s treatment of this selection of Jonas Mekas films is absolutely outstanding. Walden and the majority of the included shorts look just about as good as they ever possibly could, showing little unintentional wear or damage, while Lost, Lost, Lost only occasionally suffers from substantial scratching. Audio is a bit harder to judge, as each film is but a patchwork of field recordings and lo-fi musical tracks, but there are absolutely no complaints from me. The DTS-HD stereo tracks are as robust and clean as they likely ever will sound. Both Blu-ray discs come packed in a standard Blu-ray case.
Audio Commentaries by Jonas Mekas
Both features come with a wonderful commentary track with Mekas moderated by Pip Chodorov, the director of Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Cinema. Chodorov does a marvelous job of prompting Mekas to comment on important aspects of both films, as well as stories behind all kinds of scenes flashing by the screen.
Short Films by Jonas Mekas
Featuring Cassis (1966), Notes on the Circus (1966), Hare Krishna (1966), Report From Millbrook (1965-1966), Travel Songs (1967-1981), and Williamsburg (1949-2002), several of these shorts are sort of excerpts from the larger works included here, while others are of their own ilk, merely operating within the same stylistic framework that Mekas was experimenting with at the time.
Composed in a very Mekas like manner, Gideon Bachmann documents his time with Mekas over the course of two years. 32 min
Featuring a brilliant overview of Mekas and the enclosed films by critic and curator Ed Halter, this leaflet looks like a program for the films.
Though these films have been available via French outlets for a while, I can’t imagine they possess the crisp, vibrant beauty of these elegant and robust HD transfers. And while the films look and sound technically outstanding, for their own groundbreaking artistic merits they are essential pillars in the architecture of cinema history. Without them, where would we be? Thanks to Kino-Lorber, we may enjoy the rapturous diaries of a man overflowing with empathy and an artistic vision all his own with fresh eyes, renewed once again to take on the world through personal experience.