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The Film-Makers' Cooperative 1962 -

Related: Jonas Mekas - London Film-Makers' Co-operative - American cinema


The Film-Makers' Cooperative (Filmmaker's Co-op) came into being on 18 January, 1962. Unlike previous attempts to organize an independent film distribution center, the Co-Op was non-exclusive, nondiscriminatory, and governed by the filmmakers themselves....

Jonas Mekas began to arrange screenings with a new energy: first weekend midnight programs at the Charles Theater on Avenue B and East 12th Street in 1961 and subsequently at the Bleecker Street Cinema and the Gramercy Arts in 1963. The underground was coming into full flower and full visibility, not to say notoriety, with works in whch the tradition of social realism associated with New York was giving way to bizarre sexual extravaganzas--what in a Village Voice column, Mekas called "Baudelairean Cinema: "A world of flowers of evil, of illuminations, of torn and tortured flesh, a poetry which is at once beautiful and terrible, good and evil, delicate and dirty." Mekas was arrested on obscenity charges for screening Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, convincing Mekas of the need for an outlet for independent film more responsive to the filmmakers themselves.

To this end, he organized the Filmmakers' Cinematheque. Like previous efforts, this was initially peripatetic, opening at the New Yorker in 1964, moving to the Maidman, City Hall, and other locations, and eventually settling at the Forty-First Street Theater near Times Square. With Shirley Clarke and Lionel Rogosin, Mekas organized theFilm-Makers' Distribution Center to serve what they hoped would be a circuit of art theaters showing at lleast the feature-length works of the avant-garde....At the same time, increasing losses forced Mekas to discontinue the Cinematheque at the Forty-First Street Theater. He managed to reopen it in 1968, in what he hoped would be a permanent location in an artists's cooperative building (owned by George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus) at 80 Wooster Street in SoHo. Police harrassment ended these hopes, forcing it to temporary homes at the Methodist Church at West Fourth Street, the Bleecker Street Cinema, the Elgin, the Gotham Art; even the Gallery of Modern Art kept the Cinematheque alive for a while. But when the Film-Makers' Distribution Center was forced to close, leaving Mekas personally liable for eighty thousand dollars in debt, the Cinematheque ended too.... --Myron Lounsbury , http://www.wam.umd.edu/~molouns/amst450/village/mekas.html [Aug 2004]

Charles Theater

We focused on the New Yorker and the Thalia theaters yet the Charles "provided the underground with it's first, semi permanent base of operations." Located in the Lower East Side, while the theaters tenure was short-lived (a little over a year--beginning in 1961) it's legacy was quite impressive. "...it became a landmark of sorts in the creation of an American counterculture."

Jonas Mekas was hired by the owners of the Charles to organize some additional screenings. "Mekas was then in the early stages of his passionate commitment to American experimental cinema" but "had an eye for new talent"...and began holding monthly open screenings which turned out to be great social events. Some audience members quickly made the transition to filmmakers, while others acted/participated as critics.

In light of the above the Charles emerges as a "Great Good Place" because "it was the spiritual home of a particular utopian ideology, a place where the audience was not just the passive recipient of mass-produced fantasies, but an active community, producing movies for itself. The Charles therefore incorporated films and film making into an alternative sense of family and community through freedom and equality (two fundamental ideas in the very groundwork of the arts and counterculture, according to Banes).

This inclusion, however, ultimately destroyed the theater. The Charles closed it's doors because of financial troubles that began when admission could not be collected because it could not be decided who exactly were the filmmakers and who was the audience. --Lynette Erbe http://www.wam.umd.edu/~molouns/amst450/village/charles.html [Aug 2004]

Bleecker Street Cinema

The Film-Makers' Distribution Center will make its public debut this week with two striking exploratory films at New York's Bleecker Street Cinema despite recent action by New York License Commissioner Joel J. Tyler to close a traditional underground showcase, The Film-Makers' Cinematheque, for allegedly showing films of "sexual immorality, lewdness, perversion and homosexuality. Scorpio Rising is the jewel of the avant-garde's surrealist school, a narcotic-high spin through the world of the motorcycle fetishists. Director Kenneth Anger orchestrates a relentlessly thumping pop soundtrack, psychedellically brilliant color and zig-zag cutting into a sympnony of the senses. The film's popular appeal is limited by its openly homosexual interest -- Kenneth Anger's actors are pretty, biceped Adonises, his props self-consciously phallic, his fascination with the cyclists' storm trooper sashes and chain belts too often a wayward taste for camp cruelty. But Scorpio is the best portrait yet of this outlaw culture whose steel stallions are symbols of power, whose alienation takes refuge in sadism and the swastika.

Jonas Mekas's The Brig, a film version of Kenneth Brown's play about the unsparing brutality of a Marine barricade, follows the purist laws...of filming events as they happen without a detailed shooting script and, if possible, without professional actors...... "I wanted to destroy the barrier between the play and the audience," expalined Mekas. "So I loaded myself likea camel with wires, tape recorder and camera and broke onto the stage."

Because Mekas filmed it from the center, his viewer too becomes a victim of endless beatings, shouted commands, debasing personal inspections, unnecessary cleanups, ritualistic requests "to cross the white line, sir!" and worst of all, the destruction of all repose. "The Brig is a ballet of life," says Mekas. "Men moving relentlessly in meaningless patterns doing things they can't get out of." ----Newsweek, April 25, 1966

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