- NEW!! 21.August 2003: THE BOOK IN NEW YORK : "HOWL" (by Clayton)
with also a text by me about Jonas and friends... :

" The taxi was just leaving Vagabond Theatre on Wilshire Blvd. A black little
book came flying through the open window from someone who had just seen the last
screening of DANDY. The cab was rolling and I wondered „What a good throw!“. Off
we were, there wasn’t even a chance to say „thank you!“. A short glance told me
the title: „The Fall of America“ by Allen Ginsberg. I opened the book and the
first page I saw was : „September on Jessore Road“. I read the poem with
enthusiasm, with big delight and pain at the same time. It seemed to be an
American Mantra, a long long scream for humanity, justice and love for for the
poor, the outcasts, the mistreated children. The killer was capitalism,
headquarters New York. As I read , it carried me away, someone was fighting,
bleeding, suffering, praying his words, his poem, his song, like howling.
In the plane from LAX to JFK I read again and I thought: „ I must ask Allen to
read it and let me film, possibly for the Jonas Mekas-project . We had filmed
just some time ago, where he talks about Harry Smith, censorship etc. especially
the end of the 50’s and the 60’s.
It was Sunday evening, I called Allen and he said: „Okay, I’m very busy and
leaving Tuesday for Budapest. Come tomorrow evening, Monday at 9 p.m. I’ll give
you exactly half an hour, at 9:30 you leave. Is that okay?“
I answered: „Yes, that’s okay, I want one take of the poem.“
I was lucky cause my favourite cameraman Jonas Scholz (from Hamburg) was in
N.Y.. We arrived in front of his house on 8.th Street half an hour earlier, we
waited till I rang his bell exactly 9 p.m. on the dot.
Allen greeted us friendly, we put up the camera, sound and one light in his
room. He asked me: „How many lines do you want me to sing?“ I said: „Oh, I
thought the whole poem!“ Allen, a bit surprised: „The whole thing? Okay!“ He
asked several times to make sure about the soundquality. His text was on 4
sheets of paper that lay on top of a huge William Blake-book on the workingtable
at the foot of his bed. The Arriflex-camera was rolling with
16mmKodak-negativefilm, and to be sure if anything went wrong I had a
videocamera on from the same angle. A window and light behind him. So, we had
one take, without stopping, the whole thing in one take, it was perfect, a
perfect document of Allen singing „September On Jessore Road“, with his
At 9:30pm we left the house.
It was 1992 and later when editing the Jonas-film the Allen-song was just too
long, as I already had interviews with Allen. So, I planned to edit a
shortfilm, which I finished 1997, by a strange coincidence 2 days before his
leaving the earth (premiere: Int. Filmfestival Berlin 1998, 16mm, 20min). First
time I met him was through Jonas´ suggestion , and Allen then wrote me a fax:
“... it´s about time somebody made a film about Jonas,... and I´d be very glad
to participate!“ (Just about the same fax I received from John Cage(twice) but
he passed away a week before filming, - a big pity he couldn´t wait. So we put
the fax in the film.)
Funny thing: when I started working on the Jonas-project several art- und
filmexperts in New York said to me:“ Why Jonas Mekas?? He´s too old and weak,
he´s out! You should choose a different subject!“
But they didn´t know: I very seldom „choose“ a subject. It just happens. In over
20 years of filming there is only one person I really seriously „chose“, who I
really wanted to film, that was Blixa Bargeld in Berlin. Some examples: When I
was filming Blixa for DANDY 1986 in Berlin ( filming, not „shooting“...), Blixa
said:“ Heh, why don´t you put Nick in the film?“
( I´m thankful to Blixa for alll times, anyway). When Kazuo Ohno saw DANDY he
said:“Lets make a long film!“ - same with NinaHagen and when Jonas was
specialguest in the Ohno-film for one minute, he said like „give me the apple
overthere,“: „ You should make a whole film about me,“ (he doesn´t remember).
When I was filming Lemmy as specialguest in the Nina-film I mentioned that I´m
working on a longrundocumentary on Nick Cave and Lemmy says:“ Why Nick Cave?
He´s not that important. You should make a film about me.“
(Funny: 1989 I met Lemmy first time, together with Nina in London,
PortobelloRoad, and Nina told Lemmy to ask me to make a film about him - and I
thought: “ gosh.! Too much for me!“(Now 14 years later I actually made it, the
title: „LEMMY“ - and he wrote a great supportletter, gosh...)( autumn 2002 we
had a previewscreening at Anthology Film Archives and Jonas, who till then had
nothing to do with the „heavyrock-scene“ at all, said he was really wildly
fascinated about Lemm and the film.
Anyway... 1988 I ran (quite naive somehow) to every cinema and film-office
asking (and nearly begging) to show my film DANDY - I was totally convinced it´s
the NewYork-film. But nobody wanted, I was often laughed at or treated like a
bum...“even though“ I had a special-preview at the big disco „Tunnel“ (with a
beautiful fotoexibition) - so, I was just about to give up (which is impossible)
when I came across Anthology Film Archives and Jonas Mekas. (I had thought
Anthology was „just“ an archives and no cinema...) I gave Jonas a VHS of the
film and in December 99 we had the US-theatre premiere with Blixa Bargeld (who
was inspired living at the Chelsea...) + with Nick Cave. I flew them in from
Berlin + Brasil and took it from the boxoffice, that got pretty well filled for
3 weeks. Those 3 weeks I greeted the audience at every show, sold many posters +
postcards. Even had some t-shirts with Blixa + golden writing in Japanese. Then
every couple of months we repeated DANDY and I was lucky to get the deal:
boxoffice pays my flight + 50% of profit. It worked. I was pretty often in N.Y.,
also to show my next films and so became friends with Jonas. Our two main places
were (are) Cafe´Creme + Mars Bar, both on 2nd Ave. Jonas is quite an expert on
wines, meals, cheese, sausage, beers, tequillas, caipirinhas... Actually very
first time I came across him was 1985 at the Int. Filmfestival Torino. I went
to his film cause of the great title: „He Stands in the Desert Counting the
Seconds of his Life“ The essence of this (in my eyes) was „simply“ „Life“ (I
kept the filmtitle in my mind but forgot Jonas` name, until 1989 when after
viewing DANDY he said: „... a film with pain, humour and honesty, and a great
way of music interwoven with images.“) - Jonas` film strengthened my idea of
film being a free poem, the camera moves like the eye in the head, to and from,
focusing, „zooming“, sometimes, not knowing where to look, but in search... I
suppose searching is the real adventure, cause if you know everything it
propably gets boring. „His Eyes were closed behind the Iris. No light shold
irritate his home movie. Silence...“ (a song by Katrin Achinger + The Flight
Crew in Jonas in the desert).
Music was my reason to start making films 1981. After I had seen some punkfilms
called „AMOKOMA“ with „Abwärts“ by Klaus Maeck (who later made a doc on
Burroughs) in Hamburg, I thought : „Oh..., how easy it looks! I want to do
that too!“ -
I always laugh when Andy Warhol (in „...desert“) says:“... great peculiar movies
I had never seen before. And actually all the movies looked like MTV now, so if
you watch MTV now, it’s like going to the Filmmakers Cooperative a long time
ago. Jonas Mekas was in charge, and he was the most exiting person.“ I think
Warhol and Mekas must have been a great couple! (both originally East-Europe...)
Has anybody got a foto of both together out there?? (please answer:
„Jonas, remember how you made your first film?“ Jonas: „Well, I didn’t start
making films. Very often one doesn’t start making films. One has a camera, one
begins to filming certain images, certain realities, I began filming, collecting
images, but I was not sure what film that will be. I was not making a film, I
was filming, I was filming, it’s like, you know, breathing, like ... It doesn’t,
I mean the film takes..., the kind of material, the way I ended up, is, is, I
mean that’s not every, I don’t say that everybody should, I mean, obviously not,
not everyone makes the same kind of film, but it, it, it, had to, the material
had to grow and more to a, to reach a certain point where it becomes a film. At
first there is only one shot, pieces of film, life, reality...“
Again at Torino Filmfestival I think 1991, I filmed him and Kenneth Anger: „...
he is also a wonderful poet of emotion, using the camera, held by hand, in a way
that all the trembling reflects the inner emotion... ... a very sensitive artist
working with the camera like it is his heartbeat and his breath...“ I asked
Kenneth and Jonas to let me film them on a playground, on the swings, (cause
somehow I saw them as two big boys playing, with cameras, (excuse me, I mean it
in a positive way..) - and all the grownups, cause they couldn’t understand
their language (maybe spoilt?), were hooraying them for how great they are
(ofcourse they are)). Anyway, both were standing on the swings, swaying just a
bit - and Kenneth flew down! the whole lenghth of his body looked like smashing
in the ground! Luckily he got up, hurt his knee a bit, but nothing crucial ...
(I was told I shouldn´t show the scene, but I edited Kenneth after falling,
right back on to the swing, it looks okay.)
„Don´t hide the Madness! .. like the Tibetan Buddhists... they have a thing
called crazy wisdom, wild mind, just as the actual mind is. ... as the
dadaists+surrealists found out longlong ago.“:Ginsberg (.. desert). Yes, and you
can see this often in Jonas. He runs around in anthology-office in the middle of
th day playing his trumpet like a madman (or child), he runs over wide fields in
Lithuania to greet the cows and horses (in „Jonas At The Ocean“, part2), he
sings at the top of his voice when „partying“ with his Lithuanian friends (after
2 beer), you think you are in a crazy house! It´s so alive and wonderful! He
dances wilder then Alexis Sorbas and better than Fred Astaire (Yoko Ono has some
filmfootage of them together)
In Kassel Jonas runs up the 10m high pole, he climbs trees to the top to sing
Lithuanian songs about beautiful cruel seducing young women... (Truk Parkunas!),
.. In Montauk he stands on his head together with Peter Beard right at the edge
of the cliffs... and he still runs Anthology... you must be mad, filmmad,
cinemamad, poetrymad, lifemad.
That´s fair enough is it?
Oh... and then he „plays Antonin Artaud“ on Anthology-stage, truly like a
madman, racing to and fro, jumping up+down, yelling:“BURN!!BURN!!BURN!! I AM
To do all these things, one has to be pretty free inside. just like his
friends+companions: Warhol,
andandand... Ofcourse: what is Free? something like independent...
Jonas (at the window): You see the light, the light of the street, this street.
The light is coming from the street, and this street is in America, and I am
here, and I am in America. This is american light coming through the window,
from a street which is quite independent in the country of independence. Do you
know what independence is? Nobody really knows. In cinema, in cinema, like in
any other art, independence, maybe, independence is to free oneself from the
content and forms of those who preceeded you or those who are doing important
work today and discover your own content and your own form to express that
content, so that in other words to descend to your deepest self and work from
there. That is the only way one can contribute something new. That’s where
freedom and independence really is, that’s what it means.........
-- songtext: „Sehnsucht kommt aus dem Chaos, ist die einzige
Energie..“(Einstürzende Neubauten in both Jonas-films..)
Independent, independence in art means almost the same as independence in, let’s
say, countries where the little individual cultures are trying to gain their own
individual voice and speak with their own voice instead of, of following imposed
systems, imposed languages, in, where thy have to follow the soul of some other
let’s say ... Lithuanians were asked more or less to get into the Russian
procrustian (?) bed instead of talking or speaking their own or from their own
deepest past, their own history, or their own souls and their own language ...“

In his book „I Had Nowhere To Go“ Jonas describes the time of Russian
oppression, how he fled to Germany near Hamburg and was forced to a labour camp.
He describes in very fine details and poetically the days of hunger and despair,
then the years in „camps for displaced persons“ near Frankfurt before being
„deported“ with his brother Adolfas and friend Algis to New York. (The landing
1949 we repeated exactly at the same pier on Hudson River (Jonas at the ocean)
over 40 years later! (filmed in slow-motion (with orchestral music by
Einstürzenden Neubauten)) and he reads: „... sometimes I feel like a dog. Any
place I stay longer than a day, I feel at home... But... actually I don’t like
travelling...“ Well, I met and filmed Jonas just about all over the place: in
N.Y. ofcourse, his loft, at Anthology, at „Mars“, in the streets etc, in
Washington (where he was in the Jury of Library of Congress to choose films to
„be declared important“ and saved, in Los Angeles at the International
Documentary Filmfest, we went to have a cold beer at a special place and the
lady: „Sorry, we don’t serve beer or alcohol, only alcohol-free...“ Jonas had a
face of surprise and disappointment and we left. It is really hard to understand
how these Californian...
Another time I remember well, when I asked him to come to Brasil, he said no, he
doesn’t want to, no time, and when we were there, (he was invited with a
retrospective at Sao Paulo Int.Filmfestival) he didn’t want to leave anymore...
(Sao Paulo is my favourite city next to New York. I’d love to make a film
there.) - Then I filmed him in Paris receiving a reward, a medal for being a
chauvinist, no, sorry, a chevalier,,, Some years later I filmed him again in
Paris getting a Pasolini award, where I also filmed Arrabal at home performing
for Jonas-film (will be in part 3: „Jonas in The Jungle“ maybe 2008?) - Oh ...
we were driving at night through Sao Paulo, both in the back and suddenly a car
came racing from the side over a crossing, although we clearly had green and hit
the back, just about 10 cm behind us, ripping off the back part of the car.
Miraculously nobody got hurt and we thanked Mary. Actually Jonas believes in I
think...“Fatima“(?)....near Avignon or where? We filmed in Hamburg and went to
the place of the working camp - now a childrens playground... that evening Jonas
held a speach in Hamburgs Metropolis Kino and while talking about the past he
all of sudden cried with tears, his memory of pain had overhelmed him. It was
strange for the audience cause they didn’t know the reason. Otherwise Jonas was
happy to see Hamburg again. We did a little „filmtour“ with „Jonas in the
Desert“ to 12 towns in 11 days (in my old VW Golf). Once there was a heavy jam
on the autobahn and cause we had to get to a cinema on time I overtook on the
forbidden right lane. A truckdriver saw this and drove all of a sudden over and
into my door, I reacted very fast, noone hurt, but the door was crushed and I
alwas had to climb out of the other door... - and we made it in time...
Once in Torino, I asked Jonas what do have in your bag? „This and that, ...and a
good salami-sausage from New York “ with a big smile. I asked: „Why? What do
you need to bring a sausage from N.Y. to Italy?! They have everything here! And
more!!“ Jonas: „I never forget the days of hunger...so, just incase, I always
have a good salami from N.Y. with me....“ -
„I’m looking for the possibilities of order and simplicity through chaos,“ Jonas
reads scribblings by Peter Beard (in „... At The Ocean“). When I see all the
friends and people around Jonas in the many years, there are so many great
artists, characters, intellectuals and „crazy“ perople from around the world. It
is really unbelievable and impossible to count them all up.
Also how others see him, 2 examples: Peter Beard: „Jonas is the Picasso of
Filmart“, Wim Wenders: „Jonas is the James Joyce of movies. (...I remember the
first time at Anthology I saw 3 Ozu-films in a row, sitting in little black box
so I couldn’t see my neighbours left or right“ („... At The Ocean“). One of the
first admirers: in the 50.s, Orson Welles: „Filmculture-Magazine founded by
Mekas is the best in the world!“
Heh! how about some critical people? I seldom met any, but Barbara Hammer who
represents the Lesbian Filmworld pretty well said (some years ago, though): „
I’m pretty upset about Jonas, cause he hardly pays attention to gay and lesbian
filmmakers!“ I asked Jonas and he answered: „Well, I respect some, but most are
always stressing too much their sex and society situation, although by now they
should be „normal between normals“ and concentrate more on the possibilities of
films „normally“. (By the way I’m working on another longtime project: about
transsexuals, as an existencialistic subject, and also cause they are still far
away from being treated with the normal respect every person should have.)
Some of you surely know about the famous film „Flaming Creatures“ by Jack Smith,
Ginsberg (...at the Ocean): „... over 30 years later, again, the authoritarian,
neostalinist, neohitlerian, neogoebbels, neomaoists, culturevulture censors,
people who want to reduce everybody to their mind and want to control other
peoples´ mind as with the stalinists sand the nazis are beginning to take shape
again in America and wanting to impose the same censorship that we broke out of
much to Jonas Mekas` efforts in 1958/59. ...
... you should understand, there is a lot of history behind that, 1957 my own
poetry went on trial, 1958/59 works of Henry Miller, Jean Genet,
D.H.Lawrence.... culminating 1962 was a victory against censorship, liberating
„Naked Lunch“ as well as all the other books had beem liberated. Lenny Bruce was
arrested by the same district-attorney who also prosecuted „Flaming Creatures“
and „Naked Lunch“. .. Warhol-films were seazed, but Warhols reaction
was rather than fight in court, he would just make another film next week...“
Robert Frank:“ New York is charged with all kinds of shit.“ ...
Nam June Paik: !Over 20 years ago when I applied for my first visa to stay in
America Jonas was my financial sponsor although he didn´t have a penny in the
bank. Luckily the consulate didn´t check his bank! and now today Jonas is
financially just as bad as those days... but...
he is nearly the only resource of visual language of the avantgarde of the 50
and 60s, because his diary... I am constantly reminded how one man can achieve
so much with one will, such determination! One man can change the world in this
very organised world, it´s amazing!... that gives me lessons.. I also used some
of his films in my videos, f.ex. „the Brig“... „
Many people talk about Jonas like Ginsberg and Nam June, there are many funny,
strange and remarkable anecdotes.
For me actually he reminds me often of the Monkees.“I Am A Believer“-

Clayton. this is about 2/3 of my text, next part is more personal, but I´ m not
sure how personal i should get, I´´m still working on it, but maybe you can
already use some of this I´ve written, or maybe it´s not what you expexted, be
free to tell me your thoughts, we can change or throw away. or...
till soon, I´ll write in a couple of days some more lines, bestregards, Peter

Copyright by Peter Sempel