Jonas Mekas and the Small Branches

Bilge Ebiri interviewed Jonas Mekas for the Village Voice and every word of it is wonderful. Here is his most quotable response:

I keep repeating this, but the cinema, like any other art, is like a big tree with many, many branches. Some are bigger, some are smaller, but all of them are important, and the smallest ones sometimes are more important than the big ones — because they catch the light, the sun, they feed the big lump of the tree.

I feel like this point is often lost on modern audiences. Cinema is ever changing, but the change almost never comes from the top. The wildest experiments break open our understanding of the movies, eventually bubbling up into popular art.

Here is my favorite answer, in which he returns to the theme of trees:

My films are about the present moment. You cannot film a memory. But yeah, how I film is affected by what I am made of — from the moment when I was born, I was made by every moment, every second I lived, and already even generations before were in me already. Otherwise, how would I learn to speak or anything? So, I’m like a last leaf of a big, big tree that goes, you know, centuries and centuries back. So that whatever I do and say, how I film, is affected by what I am. But what I film is now — not a second before, not a second that will come, but what is now, the present moment. And that is not memory.

At 94, Mekas is close to realizing what he calls the completion of Anthology Film Archives. Ebiri’s interview comes on the occasion of a new book, A Dance With Fred Astaire, that comes out next week. It’s a self-described “visual autobiography.” Being that Mekas has been at the center of New York film culture (and a curator of world cinema) since the 1950s, I have no doubt this will be an incredible read.