Jonas Mekas, The Avantgarde Vlogger

— Written by Vitus Bachhausen —

While I was preparing a presentation on the avantgarde filmmaker Jonas Mekas the urgent wish to power-procrastinate suddenly overcame me. So I headed over to YouTube. But instead of satisfying the escapist in me, enjoying to be temporarily lost in rapture, the constantly critical academic in me couldn’t rest. An odd thought overcame me. In the light of contemporary filmmaking culture, Jonas Mekas could rightfully be described as the first Vlogger ever!

As a filmmaker the beauty of the everyday was all that he was looking for throughout his life.  Drawing from his life-spanning archive in As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses Of Beauty he compiled all the “glimpses of beauty” to a “masterpiece of nothing”, as he called it (Sitney, 2012):

But the American avantgarde was forty years ago. Although Mekas is still artistically alive he understands that the baton must be passed (O’Hagan, 2012):

“When the old forms began collapsing and falling away though exhaustion and repetition, a new sensibility is born. That is what happened back then and may be happening now.”

So, where is this “new sensibility” today?

There are at least glimpses of a Mekasian vision. Take Casey Neistat, for instance, a YouTuber with currently around 6,000,000 followers. One of his more pompous (and therefore famous) videos is this one:

His creativity in producing films certainly reached his climax in the one and a half year long daily vlog project, reflecting on varying aspects of his life, ranging from his running addiction to his daughter Francine. Neistat is an archetype of post-cinema: A life presented in “intensified continuity” (Bordwell, 2002), rounded off in “digital swerve” (Vernallis, 2013).

Just as Mekas has wished for, vlogs, at least in this amateurishly elaborated shape of Neistat’s videos, have found a new way of reflecting the everyday from a subjective perspective. Even so, Evan Puschak, a. k. a. The Nerdwriter on YouTube (a brilliant video maker himself), wants to give the Neistats out there a chance as he praises Neistat’s art in this video essay (Nerdwriter1, 2016):

“These new styles cultivated not from film or TV but of how we watch and share specifically online video have to be acknowledged and studied and celebrated if we want this medium to be recognised as something other than the stepchild of older formats. I get a thrill watching Neistat’s work. I’m motivated by it. by the art that’s in it and how wonderfully visible it can be. It’s a style you can’t duplicate because the show is animated and hold together by his energy.”

Just as Mekas, Neistat doesn’t treat his footage as disposable waste in a digitally affluent society. He respects video for it’s ability to capture the intensity of life as seen from a subjective point of view. Ultimately, Neistat, just like Mekas, aims for life’s spontaneous beauty. In the end, procrastination can lead to wonderful results. By the way: Inspired by Mekas and Neistat I’ve made a spontaneous video of my cramped and untidy London room. This is my memory of its beauty.

References

As I Was Moving Ahead I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2010). Directed by Jonas Mekas [DVD]. France: Potemkine Films.

Bordwell, D. (2002). Intensified Continuity. Visual Style in Contemporary American Film. Film Quarterly, 55 (3), 16-28.

CaseyNeistat (2015). WHY i LOVE THIS PLACE. YouTube. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5NVOHZpYK0 [Accessed 22 February 2017].

O’Hagan, S. (2012). Jonas Mekas: the man who inspired Andy Warhol to make films. The Guardian. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/dec/01/jonas-mekas-avant-garde-film-interview %5BAccessed 22 February 2017].

Nerdwriter1 (2016). CASEY NEISTAT: WHAT YOU DON’T SEE. YouTube. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbiJqTBCQuw [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Sitney, P. A. (2012). Mekas’s retrospection. Paris: Potemkine Films.

Vernallis, C. (2013). Unruly Media. New York: Oxford University Press.

Further Consuming

Moderna Museet Malmö (2014). Jonas Mekas – A Walk (1990). YouTube. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qj-LMIsM8c [Accessed 22 February 2017].

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