“Shoot the gloom.” Shoot the gloom. It is written on April 29, 1965 in Jonas Mekas’ diary. To dispel the gloom, he wanted to shoot from the window into the street. Mekas was no longer a complete stranger when he wrote this, but one who always lacked money. It is still true today that there is hardly a city in which life without money is more difficult than in New York.
New York is one of the richest cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean much right now. Almost nothing when it comes to the general public. Social inequality and racism are evident when you look at the platforms, the subway, and the death statistics.
New York, the place of longing not only for billionaires who make their money and park here, but also for creatives, artists, romantics – at the moment it belongs entirely to those who endure, have always endured. Many of them came from elsewhere. Many without money, still.
In New York, too, people consoled themselves in these weeks by standing in front of the open windows, on balconies and roof gardens at seven in the evening and applauding those who care for the sick and supply the healthy with everything they need, and later remove what remains of the garbage.
Just no visions, reality is fascinating enough
Some of those who clap try to spread hope and get a little sentimental, like Janet Malcolm from the “New Yorker”, who photographed a rainbow from her roof over the deserted city ahead. In New York, too, people console themselves with the fact that in times of crisis they always do good things quickly and in a self-organized manner, as after September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – for example, that someone who can afford a hundred meals in a restaurant ordered that had to close to cater to a hundred homeless people outside. This is the image New Yorkers have of themselves. Resilient. Grown by disasters. And also: Not really belonging to the country that is on her passports and that she often leaves alone in a crisis. Above all, the images and self-images of this city are similar across generations and disasters.
Every generation reinvents the city as long as there is still room for it, especially for the imagination. At the moment this room does not exist, the images of the hospitals in the parks are too overwhelming, as are the tracking shots through the empty streets, past the advertising walls that are not blinking for anyone, the images of the masked helpers, the refrigerated trucks for the dead and desperate Faces of those who finally stand in front of the cameras and give information that seemed incompatible with this city six weeks ago. As if it were somewhere in a region of the world that used to be called the Third World.
How did the city appear to you after the Second World War, after escape, forced labor and displaced persons camp arrived here in 1949, without money, without contacts, a poet, a thinker, a peasant from Lithuania? Jonas Mekas came with his brother Adolfas by ship and actually with the destination Chicago. But the two got out in New York and stayed. The New York they got to know by walking through it, Mekas absorbed, processed and filmed with all his senses as it passed by. And he described it in his diaries and tried to capture it. A first volume, edited by Anne König, has now been published by Spector Books: “I Seem to Live. The New York Diaries 1950 – 1969. Vol, 1 “. Writing, as this wonderful volume shows, was as inseparable for Jonas Mekas as filmmaking: not an act, but part of his existence.
A performance full of despair, loneliness, frustration
Also because he saw the Americans so much more clearly in the New Yorkers, from whose general term they like to distance themselves, Jonas Mekas remained a stranger. An anecdote from November 1959 makes this clear: one day he and his brother Adolfas come to a friend’s office. One of them has a bottle of mescal with him. “Don’t drink that,” the secretary shouts, startled, “it’s dangerous! You will have visions, see pictures! ”This woman was already sitting here three years ago, Mekas thinks, and two years ago and still today, and now she could see pictures, have visions, and she cried: No? Can you go deeper into everyday life? Once driven out of paradise and never looking back?