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How I saw a butterfly flying into the heart of Jonas Mekas

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

On the occasion of the centenary of the birth of the Lithuanian director Jonas Mekas, there are events in Rome that recall his memory. Memory is somewhat the soul of a thing, its essence.

Exploring, we uncover remarkable blends, much like a butterfly seeking refuge on a newly blossomed flower to quench its thirst for knowledge. And thus, within the confines of MACRO, 'Letters to Jonas Mekas' unfolded—a performance comprising screening, reading, and discourse. Avant-garde artists from the emerging Lithuanian scene, affiliated with Autarkia and Syndicate collectives, paid tribute to Mekas by embracing the genre he cherished: video letters.

Walking, with an unfocused gaze, we stumble upon myriad opportunities, transforming our experiences into unique moments of beauty!

On Friday, the magnificent Teatro Tordinona screened the film 'As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty.'

Dating back to 1670, Teatro Tordinona was commissioned by sovereign Christina of Sweden on Lungotevere Tordinona. It derived its name from a former tower, a grain tank known as 'turris de annona.' The theatre's reconstruction took place in Via degli Acquasparta in 1930, prompted by the need for safety due to the construction of Tiber's banks in 1888.

We acknowledge that beauty disorients: as we become familiar with it, our perception changes, no longer marred by struggle and melancholy, but rather infused with delight.

The butterfly, fluttering over vast forests, emerald lakes, and breathtaking plains, symbolizes change and renewal. Its brief presence mirrors its colorful interactions with blooming flowers, akin to the message it brings—a message of familiarity.

Offering an intimate glimpse into three decades of filming, the film captures the essence of life. A flaneur without urgency, Mekas roams disenchantedly, akin to a reader fascinated by the daily contexts shaped by modern life.

Jonas Mekas studio
Jonas Mekas studio'

On Friday the film As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty was screened in the magnificent Teatro Tordinona.

jonas mekas in Rome
Teatro Tordinona, jonas mekas in Rome

Beauty, we are aware, disorients: when you get to know it, you reformulate your gaze, no longer in struggle and melancholy, because it is foreign, but pleasure-loving!

The butterfly, fly over forests and immense woods, emerald lakes and breathtaking plains, lagoons that recall the sea, very high dunes and a gray moon that merges with the sea, from where the geographical center of Europe falls (understood as a region from Atlantic to the Urals): 54°54' latitude, 25°19' longitude; she came among us to bring us a familiar message.

An intimate glimpse into the life of 30 years of filming that of the film. Disenchanted, idle flaneur, he wanders, without urgency, as if he had a turtle on a leash and that butterfly on his wrist, feeling emotions in observing, a fascinated reader of the daily contexts produced by modern life.

The vision was possible in retrospect retrospettiva dei film lituani, organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania and by the cultural association FILMSTUDIO on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the birth of the City of Vilnius.

Lithuanian jonas mekas
Lithuanian jonas mekas

Vilnius is a Baroque capital, whose historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994,

the oldest evidence dates the urban settlement back to 1323 and since then it has been a crossroads of Slavic, Jewish and Polish tribes who gave it great splendor on '500, and then Ruthenians, Belarusians and Russians. The extermination of the Jews during the war by the Germans and subsequently, in the post-war period, the expulsion of the Poles, the transfer to the city of many Lithuanian peasants and the immigration from the other Soviet republics gave rise to a real change of population, culture and traditions.

Then on August 23, 1989, when in the then Soviet Socialist Republics (RSS) the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was celebrated, between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, for the division of Eastern Europe; starting from a tile, the stebuklas (miracle), in the square of the Vilnius Cathedral, passing through Riga and arriving in Tallinn, two million people held hands, forming a 700 km long human chain, the Baltijos kelias, the Baltic Chain . The protesters peacefully held hands for 15 minutes at 7:00pm.

The event was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register as an event that made history, an event that falls within the autumn of nations, the revolutions of 89 in the communist countries of Eastern Europe. Within seven months of the protest, Lithuania was the first of the Soviet republics to proclaim independence.


"They made the money, so they're worth it." The value system we have is something like this. However, there are some people who are not touched by these "beliefs".

Jonas Mekas, was a director, born in Lithuania in 1922, who immortalized and made films with the aim of capturing everyday life that became the unique material from which to draw inspiration, without thinking of spectators as paying tickets.

During the Second World War, when Lithuania was occupied by the Germans, he was deported to a Nazi forced labor camp and then, at the end of the war, interned in a camp for displaced persons in Germany, where he studied philosophy at the University of Mainz, then in 1949 the UNHCR allowed him to go to New York, where he became a director movie maker.

Over the years Mekas made increasingly radical choices and promoted the regular screening of experimental and avant-garde films, with which he shared the drastic rejection of commercial styles and strategies.

It is Mekas who influences Warhol's stylistic code, which exploits the temporal dilation, repetition and extreme simplification of the visual elements (a single 8-hour static sequence of the Empire State Building, a man sleeping for six hours, etc. )

"I don't make experimental films. Nobody makes them! I only make movies. And this has nothing to do with a "cultural initiative" or "production", or legitimization! We are film poets and cannot be any other way and we do not need recognition or legitimization."

Mekas was determined not to let the past die,

to understand it he tried to re-propose it, for this reason the shadow of the past lives again in his sewing work with the present; Mekas as a geographical, psychic and linguistic exile became the spokesperson for an entire generation of emigrants, to the point of becoming one of the most important figures of reference for the entire American underground film scene.

His works are characterized by short shots, unrelated to each other in terms of content, shot at different speeds, using the single frame technique, a recording of an image at no more than one frame per second instead of 24.

I don't avoid Hollywood: they avoid me. They don't need me. Furthermore, the reality that interests me as the content of my cinema does not exist in Hollywood, it is a wrong place to look for it. The content of my cinema is life, the life around me.

The choice, paradoxically, in addition to placing the viewer as a stranger to everyday life,

adds chromatic and focusing distortions, overlapping and continuous movements which, by canceling the dimension of the senses,

make the image the only protagonist, where in its reproduction, it crushes the modern man, victim of foreign choices, prevailing the profound truths of the everyday life of the intimate life of others.

The sudden cuts and above all the absence of a narrative structure remind us of stories or reels on Instagram, the story of personal and daily events that dominates the great narratives.

The butterfly does not count the years, but the colors of the petals on the flowers on which it rests, for this reason its short time is enough for it, not like the cyberflâneur who moves without a precise destination in the virtuality of the life pages of others.

As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty:

by Pier Paolo Piscopo


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