Posted by Ian Mantgani on 17th January, 2013
Lost, Lost, Lost, which played as part of the BFI’s recent Jonas Mekas season, is the first time I’ve seen anything by the legendary avant-garde filmmaker and critic. It takes the form of six reels of 16mm home movies spanning Mekas’s 1949 arrival in New York as a Lithuanian refugee to his mid-1960s identity as a firm fixture in the Lower Manhattan independent film scene. When Mekas can hold his camera still and/or focus his shots, there are valuable snippets of old New York – slice-of-life snapshots of doorways and stickball games, footage of the displaced Lithuanian community and their protest groups, and snapshots of the arts scene which include a few grabs of a handsome young Peter Bogdanovich.
Three hours is a long time to watch someone’s home movies, though, especially when they’re so loosely presented, with hit-and-miss clarity and context. Sometimes Mekas’s reflections as a stranger in a strange land are expressed as vague, repetitive feelings recorded on noisy tape – Lost, Lost, Lost is an accurate title but more evocative than the actual narration – so his bewilderment starts to feel like a sullen, one-note affectation after a decade and a half of living in the same place. The collection of footage is alternately hypnotic and wearying. It’s probably not the best introduction to Mekas – next time I’ll try a narrative piece like the 85-minute Guns of the Trees, and if I go for another multi-hour diaristic rumination, it’ll be As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, which runs 290 minutes but will be easier going if it covers a broader range of emotions.