for us all. In the end, what we leave behind serves to both define us
and inspire those who follow. With this retrospective, the creativity
of Adolfas Mekas is brought to the forefront, calling attention to the
joy that stirs anyone to pick up a camera, gather together a group of
performers, and create a story. If Adolfas’ life is any example, the
passion for creativity can be a wondrous and lifelong reward, something
worth celebrating with anyone who has ever found delight in a darkened
theatre." Daniel Guzman in CINESPECT and his
review of the retrospective of Adolfas' films in NYC
Mekas was born on a farm in Semeniskiai, Lithuania, to Elzbieta and
Povilas Mekas on September 30, 1925. He was brother to sister Elzbieta
and brothers Povilas, Petras, Kostas and Jonas. Adolfas was the
youngest in the family.
At age 14, while still in Lithuania, Adolfas saw his first movie,
Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn, the cine-magic of which
he would never forget. In July 1944, toward the end of World War II
when Lithuania was occupied by both Soviet and German troops, he and
his brother Jonas left Lithuania by train for Austria, fearing
retaliation for their participation in the underground. Shortly after
the train left Panevezys railroad yards, it was boarded by German
soldiers and redirected to Hamburg. When World War II ended, the
brothers were sent from one Displaced Persons camp to another across
Germany. While in the DP camp near Mainz, Adolfas attended classes in
literature, theatre arts and philosophy at the University. He also
wrote and published short stories, plays and tall-tale books for
children. He lived in DP camps under the Allied authority in Germany
until 1949. Having been refused entry into New Zealand, Israel and
Canada, Mekas was sent as a refugee to the United States, where he
landed with his brother at the end of 1949.
In the spring of 1950 he purchased his first 16mm Bolex camera, with
which he shot thousands of feet around the Brooklyn dockyards, and with
his brother Jonas attended all film society screenings in the New York
area, in addition to screenings at the Museum of Modern Art, Cinema 16,
Thalia, Stanley and other venues for movies of any kind, supporting
himself with a variety of jobs from dishwasher to foreman in a Castro
Convertible factory. During the Korean War, he was drafted into the
Army and assigned to the Signal Corps. He sailed for France in
September 1951, and after two years abroad, he returned to the United
States in 1953 where he continued writing and filming and also began
organizing, with his brother, the American Film House. Though the
brothers approached many independent filmmakers, none were interested
in collaborating on the project. Adolfas and Jonas persisted for over a
year to find a location in Manhattan, but without success. In 1954 they
abandoned the idea of the American Film House and with the money they
had borrowed for the Film House project started a film society which
they called the Film Forum.
"We showed films at public schools and at Carl Fischer Hall on 57th
Street, wherever we could, until we went bankrupt in the middle of the
second film series later in the year just in time to start Film Culture
magazine, the first issue of which came out in December, 1954." Adolfas
Together with his brother in the early 50's Adolfas wrote, directed and
shot a number of films that were never finished, including his first
script in 1950 - "Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost" - later to become "Lost,
Lost, Lost" and in 1951, "Grand Street" --
both films documented the fate of displaced persons, old and new
immigrants to Brooklyn.
In 1953, together with Jonas, he wrote, directed and edited a somber
romance called "Silent Journey" in which he played a
principal role. In 1955, with Jonas and Edouard de Laurot, he began "Film
Essay," a spoof of American avant-garde film of that time.
During those years, he made short trips to Canada to visit friends and
find material for the novel he was writing, "A C Living on $1 a day, he
was free to write and he wrote short stories, later published, and
began longer works, notably his diaristic "George The Man," and was
able to finish the screenplay for "Hallelujah The Hills."
In 1959 he returned to the States and the daily struggle to live and
create and express the needs of the growing movement of independent and
avant-garde filmmakers in New York.
On 28 September 1960, hosted by Adolfas, brother Jonas and producer Lew
Allen, a group of 20 independent filmmakers met at the Producers
Theatre on West 16th Street and by unanimous vote bound themselves into
the free and open organization of the New American Cinema. The second
meeting took place on September 30 at the Bleecker Street Cinema and
the first draft of the Statement of Aims was read, discussed and
approved, and later published in Film Culture magazine. Subsequently, a
third and fourth meeting took place, leading to the establishment in
1961 of the Film-makers' Co-op - a distribution organization for the
dissemination of independent, experimental and avant-garde films. The
New York group included among others, Lionel Rogosin, Shirley Clarke,
Robert Frank, Peter Bogdanavich, Maya Deren and Daniel Talbot.
In 1961 brother Jonas began shooting "Guns of the Trees."
Adolfas assisted him in all stages of production, writing and editing,
and played one of the leads in the film Other players were Ben
Carruthers, Frances Stillman and Argus Speare Juilliard.
In 1963 Adolfas' film "Hallelujah The Hills" was the
surprise smash hit of the Cannes Festival. Subsequently that year it
was invited to over 27 film festivals, including the First New York
Film Festival, London Festival, Montreal Film Festival, Mannheim Film
Festival and the Bombay Film Festival; it won the Silver Sail at the
Locarno Festival, was invited to a Command Screening for the Royal
Family at Buckingham Palace and had a 15-week run at the Fifth Avenue
Cinema in New York City. Time magazine called it "…the weirdest,
wackiest screen comedy of 1963….A gloriously fresh experience in
Cinema." Jean Luc Godard wrote in Cahiers du Cinema, 1963 "Hallelujah
proved clearly that Adolfas is someone to be reckoned with. He is a
master in the field of pure invention, that is to say, in working
dangerously - 'without a net.' His film, made according to the good old
principle - one idea for each shot - has the lovely scent of fresh
ingenuity and crafty sweetness."
Adolfas was hired in 1964 as post production coordinator and editor of
the independent comedy drama "Goldstein", which had
been co-directed by Ben Manaster and Philip Kaufman. Editing the film
as a fugue, Adolfas created a tour-de-force Jewish fable, and it was
invited to the Cannes Festival in 1964.
The same year Adolfas edited sound and film footage taken by brother
Jonas of a performance of "The Brig," a production
of The Living Theatre directed by Judith Malina. The film was selected
by the New York Film Festival, the London Festival, the Moscow Film
Festival and others, and took First Prize at the Venice Festival in the
documentary category. "…..one of the more remarkable films in the
entire fest (NY Film Festival of '64) is the Jonas and Adolfas Mekas
film version of The Living Theatre's 'The Brig.' This
filmed-on-the-stage version of a play….has a vitality as film which is
unique and does in cinema terms what the seekers for new form in plays
and novels are attempting." Variety, September 30, 1964.
In March of 1964 he met his wife to be, Pola Chapelle. They were
separated before their marriage by the production of his second feature
film, "The Double Barreled Detective Story," but
never again during their long lifetime together.
A rough and tumble nineteenth century town was built just outside
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for the location of the filming of DBD. The
screenplay was based on a Mark Twain short story and the film starred
Hurd Hatfield and Greta Thyssen. In spite of the extraordinary
performance of Hurd Hatfield, who played two different parts in the
movie, there were problems with the production from the start and
Adolfas never got to do a final cut. The producers took the film out of
his hands and refused to release it. Nonetheless, with a little help
from his friends, he was able to whisk a print to the Venice Film
Festival of 1965. Gene Moskowitz in Variety wrote:
"The Double Barreled Detective Story is authentic
Mark Twain-esque with all the rustic humor of the 1880's….Mekas shows
he has a way with parody and he gets disarmingly innocent performances
from his cast." September 8, 1965.
After their marriage in October of 1965, Adolfas directed Pola Chapelle
in a short parody of Italian art films of the time, written by Peter
Stone for the Broadway show "Skyscraper" which starred Julie Harris and
Charles Nelson Reilly. Paul Sorvino played opposite Pola in the
3-minute film which won kudos from the critics.
"….a priceless film sequence satirizing Italian movies, for some of the
heartiest laughs of the evening." Nadel, NY World Telegram, 15 November
"….there is a film sequence made by Adolfas Mekas: a very funny parody
of an Italian movie, in Italian, complete with English subtitles and a
projector that goes 'zzzzzzz" Jules Novick, Village Voice, 25 November
After his marriage in 1965 and for the rest of the 60's, Adolfas wrote
and hustled his scripts to agents and producers while working as an
editor and/or postproduction coordinator on various independent films,
including the soft-core flics of Joe Sarno, ABC-TV's Wild World of
Sports and a few TV musical extravaganzas. He was encouraged by Howard
Hausman of the William Morris Agency, who had seen the future of cinema
in Adolfas' first film "Hallelujah The Hills."
Although Hausman was successful in getting him offers of directing
jobs, he would not be deterred from his goal to direct his own
In 1967, with a very tight budget, Adolfas made a 16mm B&W film
from his own script - "Windflowers, Elegy for a Draft Dodger."
Dominique Noguez in Cahiers du Cinema (#212 May 1969) said of the film
"….no frills, no Gipsy violin effect, no second movement of Aranjuez's
concerto - it is thereby, poignant. It is the other side of Vietnam.
The stubbornness of a silent young man who is running away….who simply
wanted to live."
Shortly after the completion of Windflowers, Adolfas was contacted by
Governor Harold E. Hughes of Iowa. After an interview with the
Governor, he was given the job of creating promotional commercials for
the Hughes' campaign for the United States Senate. Adolfas had no
experience in the genre, but the challenge was enticing and he spent
the summer of '67 filming Governor Hughes as he stumped the Iowa
cornfields. He produced 35 TV commercials for Hughes' election to the
US Senate. Harold Hughes won.
In 1968 Adolfas wrote, directed and starred in a 3-minute short
entitled "Interview with the Ambassador from Lapland."
It was shot by brother Jonas, with assistance from Shirley Clarke on
sound. Pola Chapelle produced. "In these 3 minutes Mekas is Swift, the
horrible and admirable Swift of the 'Modest Proposal.' One really must
admit that Mekas has made the USA a bit less loathsome." Cahiers du
#212 May 1969.
(NOTA BENE: Jonas often claims authorship of this short film, calling
it "The Time Life Vietnam Newsreel".)
In 1969 Adolfas shot and edited "Fishes in Screaming Water"
a catfilm produced by Pola Chapelle for the First International CatFilm
Festival - INTERCAT '69 - which she founded. For the 2nd International
Catfilm Festival in 1973, he created the award winning "How To
Draw A Cat".
"Companeras and Companeros" - a feature length
documentary, shot in 1970 by David and Barbara Stone in Cuba was edited
and subtitled by Adolfas. Three versions were edited: for US release,
for European release and for Cuban release.
In the same year, he cut and edited a film by Yoko Ono, 360 legs, in "Up
In 1972, assisted by Pola Chapelle, Adolfas completed a film which
documented the autobiographical journey of his return to Lithuania
after a 27-year absence.
"Going Home" was invited to the New York Film
Festival and many other festivals that year. It was part of the
Conference on Visual Anthropology at Temple University in 1974, and
chosen by the Museum of Modern Art to tour internationally from 1975 to
1977 with its program of films in the Anthropological Cinema exhibit.
On July 3, 1971, Adolfas received a teaching contract from Bard
College. Soon after, he began organizing the young Film Department. At
first denied tenure, he began a campaign in pursuit of it, believing
that if he were given tenure, the Film Department would be tenured.
Armed with letters from colleagues in the film world and ex-students,
he was successful, and in 1979, tenure was granted to him.
He and Pola, young son Sean and Mamacat moved to the Hudson Valley,
where he would dedicate himself to sharing his passion for the magic of
film with the eager and talented young people of the then pastoral Bard
College. Down The Road, a nearby pub became their after hours seminar
room, film discussions going on over Jenny beer into the early morning.
Though only a very small budget was available to the Film Department,
with Adolfas leading the way, the department continued to grow as the
"orphan in the storm." Not deterred, never frustrated, once a year
Adolfas rented a truck and together with Pola he scoured the labs of
his film friends in New York City whose donations of reels, split
reels, cores, viewers, projectors and occasionally a moviola, were
carried back to Bard's Carriage House - the Bard Film Center of the
early years. The lack of proper funding for the department worked to
energize Adolfas and his students in innovative ways, e.g., to raise
funds for senior projects in film, he held lunchtime auctions outside
the dining commons on campus. The film department was small - more than
three graduates was rare in the early years, but unceasingly active and
always visible, for years the dynamic center of the Bard Campus.
Adolfas brought to the Bard Film Department some of the most noted
independent and experimental filmmakers, including Bruce Baillie, Ernie
Gehr, Andrew Noren, Barry Gerson, Peter Hutton and Peggy Ahwesh and
film historians and theorists Paul Arthur, P. Adams Sitney and John
Pruitt. Guest faculty - friends including Ken Jacobs, Shirley Clarke,
Sidney Peterson, Bob Breer and George Kuchar. The Bard Film Department
grew in stature to become one of the most respected film departments in
P. Adams Sitney writes "what came to be known as the People's Film
Department was his (Adolfas) theater of hijinks; he surprised even
himself with his enormous didactic gifts, his startling administrative
skill and his unceasing fount of comic invention. His own fractured
education and his nearly total disregard for academic decorum made him
the ideal professor. Nowhere in the archive of film is there an
invented character who could come near the brilliant, lovable,
outrageous mischief that consistently turned his classrooms into arenas
of magic. He taught generations how to see and act."
the summer of 1971, visiting Italy after his first trip back to the
home he had left behind in Lithuania, St. Tula made her appearance in
Adolfas' life. When, in Porto Santo Stefano, he first saw her
representation, it was clear to him that she was the Patron Saint of
Cinema. He had no name for her at the time, but snapped a photo and
displayed it in the Film Department of Bard College. Shortly after,
written under her photo in the Carriage House, was seen: "St. Tula
loves your film. Even if no one else does." The name stuck. And the
altar was built.
In addition to Chairing the Film Department and teaching film courses
until 2004, in 1981 he co-founded the Milton Avery Graduate School of
the Arts at Bard College and directed the MFA program from 1983 to
1989. He also taught film courses at the School of Visual Arts in New
York City and was a visiting lecturer at many Universities around the
Adolfas Mekas died in the early morning of May 31, 2011. By his bedside
was the treatment for the fantasy documentary film he would make on the
life and death by fire of the Neapolitan poet, philosopher and socalled
heretic Giordano Bruno. He called Bruno, the first Beatnik.
"Lost, Lost, Lost" (1950) with brother Jonas,
"Grand Street" (1951) with brother Jonas,
"Silent Journey" (1953) with brother Jonas,
"Antifilm #2" (1953)
"Inca" (1954) lost
"Film Essay" (1955) with brother Jonas,
"Sunday Junction" (1958) with brother Jonas,
"Guns of the Trees" (1961)
"Susquehanna" (1961) unfinished
"Hallelujah The Hills" (1963)
"Goldstein" (1964) editor
"The Brig" (1964)
"The Double Barreled Detective Story" (1965)
"The Swap and How They Make It" (1966) editor
& post production coordinator
"Trailer for The Swap and How They Make It" (1966)
hot and cool versions
"The Love Merchant" (1966) editor
"Mimi Benzell" (1966)
"Building for the Future" (1966)
"A Matter of Baobab" (1966)
"Step Out of Your Mind" (1966) editor
"Windflowers – Elegy for a Draft Dodger"
"Hawaii Ho!" (1968) editor and post production
"Interview with the Ambassador from Lapland,
Time-Life Newsreel" (1967)
"Sweet Victory" (1968)
"Fishes in Screaming Water" (969) editor
"Companeros and Companeras" (1970)
"A Matter of Baobab, First Growth" (1970)
"Those Memory Years" (1970) editor
"A Weekend With Strangers" (1970) editor
"Up Your Leg" (Yoko Ono in 1970) editor
"A Science Fiction Film in the Latter Twentieth
Century" (1971) Production Manager
"Going Home" (1972)
"How to Draw a Cat" (1973)
Mekas, Adolfas, and Jonas Mekas. Is Pasaku Krasto:
Rinktines Ivairiu Tautu Pasakos. Vilnius: Dominicus Lituanus, 2013.
“In August 2009…" 222 autobiographies de Robert
Kaplan by his friends – page 469. Association Locus Solus,
Idylls of Semeniskiai – Adolfas translated from
Lithuanian to English
this epic poem by Jonas. Hallelujah Editions 2007
When the Turtles Collapse by Adolfas Mekas and Pola
Hallelujah Editions 2005
Nailing the Coffin, by Adolfas Mekas and Jonathan
Hallelujah Editions 2005
The Father, the Son and a Holy Cow by Adolfas Mekas,
Hallelujah les Collines (screenplay of "Hallelujah
the Hills") L'Avant
Scene, No. 64, 1966.
Soldiers Fought Bravely to Enter the City. (Short
Bread&, No 2, 1962; Motive, Vol XXII, No.3, 1962
"A Letter From Mexico or a Film Between Two Mafias."
Film Culture 20
(1959): 72–79. Print.
Chapter XV. (Excerpt from a novel.) Bread&,
No 1, 1958.
Proza II. Collected short stories. Gabija, 1951, in
1945–52 published numerous literary and journalistic articles in
various Lithuanian periodicals)
Proza I. Collected short stories. Zvilgsniai, 1949,
Une Reverence. Poems in prose. Zvilgsniai, 1948, in
Knyga Apie Karalius ir Zmones (A Book About Kings and
Collected short stories. Patria, 1947, in Lithuanian; published again
by Humanitas in 1994.
Is Svetimo Krasto (From a Foreign Country). Stories
Giedra, 1947, in Lithuanian.
Trys Broliai (Three Brothers). Stories for children.
Giedra, 1946, in