Mekas’s Walden at Anthology


Celebrating and singing the scene it records, Walden is four years (1964-68) seen through the corybantic 16mm Bolex of Jonas Mekas. The propulsive images, strung together in roughly the same order they were filmed, inaugurated Mekas’s ongoing Diaries Notes and Sketches series, a project of autobiography through home movie—or, as he called them, “Just images for myself.” The filmmaker-flaneur records dinners, weddings, hustles, and four full cycles of the seasons seen from the Brakhage compound in Colorado, the malevolent industrial badlands of North Jersey, and the lunch counters of slush-pit New York. The ambience alternates subway clatter and Chopin, and the cast is a game of “spot the counterculture personality”—the Velvet Underground at their inaugural show, an “Uptown Party” at Stephen Shore’s place, and numberless other walk-ons and cutaways. In the three-hour torrent of footage, one encounters puzzling asides (the intertitle “Black Power” introduces a black demolition crew at work) and beauty-flecked soporific drones. Mekas’s career—filmmaker, Voice film critic, co-founder of the invaluable Anthology Film Archives—may be viewed as a grand project in preservation. Walden is dedicated to the Lumière Brothers, and it follows the model of their quotidian “realities”: allowing a departed world to breathe once more.