Jonas Mekas – Walden (series)

Diaries, Notes and Sketches – also known as WALDEN (1969)

Subtitled in six languages: French, Italian, German, Japanese, Lithuanian and Spanish.

Poet and hero of the American counter-culture, Jonas Mekas, born in Lithuania in 1922, invented the diary form of film-making. WALDEN, his first completed diary film, shot between 1964-1969, is an epic portrait of the New York avant-garde art scene of the 60s and a groundbreaking work of personal cinema.

After nearly thirty years Jonas Mekas’ “Walden” looms as a central cinematic document of daily life in the New York community of artists during one of its moments of splendour. Although Mekas is neither shocking nor confessional, he has marked every moment of this very long film with the nuances of his own personality. In the grand array of characters, mostly unnamed, or identified only by a Christian name, – although some others are internationally famous – the only psychological portrait is that of the filmmaker himself: an exiled Lithuanian poet fascinated and tortured by his slow Americanization. The film is possessed by a nervous, staccatto rhythm that repeatedly opens out into expansive raptures.

The massive accumulation of images provided Mekas with a unique archive for constructing this visual diary, the first of many he completed. Watching it now, we can recover a sense of that place and time that no other film can give us. As a minor character, periodically passing before my friend’s camera, I recognise how fragmentary and elliptical his representation of others can be, and yet these images have become for me the strongest visual indices of who I was thirty years ago. That may be the core of Mekas’ art: in finding a cinematic form in which he could capture his changing moods without imposing a coherent mask of himself, he has made a work that lets others appear in their phenomenal ambiguity. - P. Adams Sitney (1997)