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Amici carissimi,

With great happiness we are pleased to let you know that Adolfas' feature film, from 1965 never released, and now restored painstakingly over the past year, by the Belgian Royal Archive, "The Double Barreled Detective Story", will be premiered in all its black and white glory at 9pm, October 14, 2014, closing nite of the L¹Age D¹Or Exprmntl Film Festival at the Ledoux Theatre in Brussels.

It is all too poignantly appropriate, since Bunuel and Jacques Ledoux were friends of Adolfas. I wish you too could be with us. I know Adolfas and his angels will be there, and Tula, of course, will light the way. DBD, based on a short story by Adolfas¹ favorite American author, Mark Twain, is his salute to Twain and his decidedly 19th century humor, very different from HTH, but always a joyful cinematic experiment.

Molte grazie to Nicola Mazzanti, director of the Belgian Royal Archive, and to his staff and technicians, for their dedication and expertise,

Pola and Sean and all the cats,

Sempre Avanti!

 

 
 

Chicago Tribune
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'Hallelujah the Hills', the funniest comedy you've never seen
An obscure farce from 1963 comes to the Siskel for a rare screening

Scene from the 1963 film "Hallelujah the Hills" (Siskel Film Center / February 6th 2014)

 

 
 

February 6, 2014

Nina Metz
Chicago Closeup


The funniest comedy you've likely never seen, let alone heard of, comes to the Siskel Film Center this week for two screenings. "HALLELUJAH THE HILLS," from 1963, is so rare, you won't find it on DVD or any streaming site.

Even I couldn't finagle a look at the film ahead of time. "Unfortunately," Siskel programmer Marty Rubin informed me, "the archive refused to allow another screening (even if we paid) out of concern for the durability of the print."

Just two clips exist on YouTube, including a Thanksgiving dinner scene that devolves into an absurdist battle royale between the leads (Peter H. Beard and Martin Greenbaum) who play friends competing for the same woman. When they're not stuffing their faces, one guy sticks a pair of pliers on the other guy's nose and starts twisting, before moving on to other hi-jinks, such as karate chopping a banana in his rival's pocket. Someone gets smashed in the kisser a pie - by his own hand. Well, why not?

In a 2006 video interview, the film's director Adolfas Mekas (joyful, rascally sort who looks like a cross between Clark Gable and Harvey Korman) is asked about that scene: "Are you mocking Thanksgiving? Are you mocking eating? Are you mocking the way Americans eat?"

"No," comes the answer. "I was mocking those two schnooks!"

Born in Lithuania in 1925 and later sent to a German labor camp during World War II Mekas emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 along with older brother Jonas. By the following year he had already acquired his first Bolex camera. (Adolfas died in 2011 at 85. Jonas, now 91, is widely considered the elder statesman of independent film, or as the Guardian once put it, as "the man who inspired Andy Warhol to make films.")

Together the brothers founded Film Culture magazine (which stopped publishing about 20 years ago) and were part of a group of New American Cinema filmmakers who are the focus of an ongoing series at the Siskel hosted by film scholar Bruce Jenkins.

"Sometimes it was called 'off-Broadway," Jenkins said. (He will talk more about the film after it screens Tuesday.) "Sometimes it was called the 'New York School,' because these films were made in, and about, and were by, New York-based artists."

These films, though mostly unknown, laid the groundwork for the kinds of commercially successful projects that would come just a few years later.

"'Easy Rider' stands on the shoulders of all these films that we've forgotten," per Jenkins, who described the late '50s and early '60's as the original indie movement.

Much of "Hallelujah the Hills" plays like an affectionate riff on earlier forms of cinema, with its use of iris effects and intertitles from silent films. The comedy is physical and comes straight out of the Marx Brothers tradition. And while it has no specific Chicago connection, the film feels like something that might have come out of Second City in its early years.

"In the end, knowingly or not, other people have channeled this type of filmmaking," said Jenkins. "It's going to seems incredibly familiar, even if you've never seen the film before."

Jenkins calls this generation of filmmakers "sort of like the Beats. They all wanted to make feature films, and they all wanted their films shown in theaters. But they did not want to work in Hollywood."

"They saw Hollywood as essentially being about money, and they saw their filmmaking as being about personal expression. So they wanted to prove, by making their films, that you could abolish what they called the budget myth - that you could only make feature films in a corporate structure, using the studio system, for hundreds of thousands of dollars. They wanted to disprove that."

"Hallelujah the Hills" was made for somewhere between $65,000 and $75,000. It was financed, Mekas says in that 2006 interview, by his inner circle: "My dentist, my lawyer and two good friends."

The final result is a farce set in rural Vermont. "It's kind of allegory of Jonas and Adolfas," according to Jenkins. "It's that slapstick comedy that comes from guys handing out and competing. Like the bickering brothers they were in real life, transposed from Lithuania to New England and given this distinctly American twist."

The movie begins with the news that the object of their affection has married someone else. "So they get drunk and then they proceed to have memories - basically flashbacks - of the years of coming up to visit her."

It doesn't hurt that Mekas cast both roles with good-looking young guys, especially Beard. Take a moment to Google the man; he has a face that looks like it could appear in a Ralph Lauren ad. "He was famously married to Cheryl Tiegs and is a highly regarded photographer," said Jenkins, "and he's among the handsomest men of his generation. And there's a great moment where he's seen running naked across the snow, so yeah, Adolfas Mekas realized these were very handsome men."

Later in his career, Mekas would teach film at Bard College, from the early 1970s through 2004. He appeared in numerous student films and upon his death, clips were assembled and posted on YouTube, revealing a man with a deep sense of humor and apparently game for anything.

"But he never found the traction to make money as a film director," said Jenkins. "He supported himself for many years as a film editor working for ABC's "Wide World of Sports." In that aforementioned 2006 interview, Mekas is interviewed from his villa in Tuscany, and as he looks out over the bright blue Mediterranean from his terrace, he calls the home a "fringe benefit of my film 'Hallelujah the Hills.'"

Is he joking? It's not entirely clear. There is no box office data readily available. Considering the film's obscurity - undeserved obscurity, it would seem - one would think Mekas didn't make a dime. But maybe he did. "Hallelujah the Hills" was the hit at the Cannes Film Festival when it debuted in '63 and remained a staple in European theatres for years after - decades even.

"The thing is, our contemporary global awareness of what happens at Cannes or other festivals, that's a fairly recent phenomena," Jenkins noted. "If you dial back a half century it might as well have been the Antarctic Film Festival."

"Hallelujah the Hills" screens at 6pm Friday and 6pm Tuesday (that latter followed by a post-show discussion led by film scholar Bruce Jenkins).


Go to http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/HALLELUJAH THE HILLS_new.

 
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June 3, 2011
Since my departure from planet earth, I have appointed George Binkey to keep this site filled with news of my legacy and of the people all over the world – amici cari and colleagues and x-film students - who share in this legacy.

You can contact George at: gbinkey@gmail.com .

My departure was May 31st, 2011. It was quick and quiet. I wonder as I write this if that was the way I came onto this Planet – quickly and quietly. I regret not being able to speak with my Katyta to thank her for the gloriously beautiful life we had together, but I had no control over my leaving. My angels came and whisked me away. Too fast, too completely.

So too, had I wanted to speak with my son Sean to tell him of my profound belief in him as a visual artist. Visual expression is Sean’s path to fulfillment.

The tributes given me thus far were appreciated – at MOMA in New York and at Anthology Film Archives in New York and at Experimenta - the Festival of the Moving Image - in Bangalore, India, and at the Kerala Film Festival in Kerala, India. Pola presented my films, traveled with them, giving quite a few interviews. She told no lies. She was superb, even if the projection in all locations was lacking, with the exception of MOMA. 

Here are two excerpts from critiques of the Anthology Film Archives retrospective.

Daniel Guzman in CINESPECT – “Time passes 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.

R.B of THE NEW YORKER about Hallelujah the Hills - “In this antic, freewheeling comedy from 1962, the director tells a story of love, loss and lunacy as filtered through movie madness – his characters’ and his own….

 

Two additional tributes to Adolfas took place in 2012.

During the Bard College commencement weekend, on May 26th, 2012, there was a large gathering for Adolfas at the Film Center - friends, film grads and colleagues. President Leon Botstein greeted those attending as they were finishing a luscious late breakfast buffet in the foyer. He was in great form, remembering Adolfas and his life and work at Bard with humor and a touch of nostalgia for the uniqueness of the Professor who demonstrated to his students the value and strength of the individual spirit.

Leon got laughs from the crowd, the longest when he described Adolfas' funeral at the Bard Cemetery. Adolfas had insisted always that he wanted to be buried in a plain pine box, and so he was, no decoration except a 35mm film reel attached to the top of the casket by son Sean. When the casket was lowered into the ground, it is usual to throw dirt and flowers after it. As Leon recounted, in Adolfas' case the casket was overwhelmed by fresh lemons from a basket of same provided by John Kisch….a tribute to Adolfas' homemade Limoncello that students who came to visit will remember.

After the brindisi, guests went into the theatre, where those in attendance could speak if they wanted. Many did. Among them - Jake Grossberg, Robert Kelly, Ray Benkocsy, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Hutton, John Pruitt, Mark Steiner, David Avallone , and Giuseppe Zevola, who came from Naples to recite the poetry of the heretic Giordano Bruno. After the speeches and poetry and a song by Mark Steiner, the short film which David Avallone titled "Adolfas in the Movies" - a compilation of appearances over the years of Adolfas in Bard senior project films and other student films - was screened. A standout.


 

All in all, a very satisfying and gratifying tribute to Adolfas.
Our thanks to Jane Brien, Director of Alumni/ae Affairs

After the tribute at the Film Center, Pola, friends and film grads visited the gravesite, and then went across the road to "TWO BOOTS." Hosted by Phil Hartman, they were invited to a late lunch.

And so the day ended with Adolfas' fave pizza!


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November 27th 2012 was the Opening nite of a nationwide tribute to Adolfas Mekas by the cultural community of Lithuania and the municipality of Vilnius. It was a beautiful, even stunning exhibit, with photos of Adolfas on all walls, representations from the hours and days of his life. Across the farthest wall and visible immediately as you entered the large gallery was a huge photo of Adolfas from 1948, typical, in a ruffled two-piece suit and beret walking towards the viewer on a bare country road just outside the Displaced Persons camp of Wiesbaden in Germany. Self-contained, determined Adolfas, seemingly happy. The photo covers the entire wall, probably 10 meters by 2 or 3. Extraordinary.
 

Adolfas in his Sunday Best walking outside the Weisbaden Displaced Persons Camp, Germany 1948.


Alongside the gallery there is a screening room. During the reception that evening the screening of films continued - Adolfas' films, short and long, and features and shorts by Bard Film Grads - Anne Meredith, Ashim Ahluvalia, Elliot Caplan, GJ Echternkamp, Erica Beeney, Jan Peterson, Jeff Scher, Chris Hume, Ozan Adam and many others who generously gave their films for projection during the tribute. So many, in fact that the organizers have determined that in order that all films be appreciated, the showing of films will be distributed among the three festival cities - Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda.

In the gallery room surrounded by the photos are glass cases, with texts from Adolfas' diaries and other writings, sayings and sketches by him. One, I remember: "WHAT'S A LONG LIFE WITHOUT A FIRE BURNING WITHIN." My god, and goddess, didn't he have a fire burning within!

On another wall there are 5 large monitors, on which is projected, continuously, Adolfas giving various lectures from his famous course at Bard College - Cinemagic. Benches are provided and earphones invite you to sit and listen in. Many did.

It was spectacular. On opening nite, after regaining my composure, (I broke down in front of the visitors and organizers and US embassy reps when the Mayor of Vilnius, dear Arturas Zuokas, handed me flowers in a somewhat formal ceremony). I spoke a few words thru tears, and our caro Giordano Bruno, Giuseppe Zevola, jumped in to save me. He was brilliant with his recitation of Bruno.

I did a few hours of interviews for radio and tv and Sean too was followed by the local paparazzi, etc. Some Lithuanian relatives showed up - luckily most of the younger ones speak english. Other old friends and new friends from municipal and national government greeted us. Sebastian, Jonas' son, was there, and we were able to hang out together for the first time in a long time. Beer is very big on the Lithuanian menu! And my nephew Sebastian knows very well the best founts of Birzai beer.

Earlier in the day at the Academy of the Arts in Vilnius, John Pruitt gave his first lecture on Adolfas, and his lifetime contribution as man and artist. He was well-received by students and faculty.

In February the whole tribute/exhibit moves to Kaunas and in March to Klaipeda on the Baltic, two other important Lithuanian cities. It's been hectic, but gratifying and worth every bit of the time I spent gathering material for the organizers, Kris Kucinskas, Arturas Jevdokimovas and Kestutis Sapoka.

Adolfas has to be smiling and wishing he had some of that Birzai beer to share with Bard Film grads! I'm no beer connoisseur, but I'm certain Birzai beer is better than Jenny.

One other thing, a postscript - John Pruitt, Sean and I went back to the Gallery to take some shots of fotos hanging, probably supplied by Jonas, that I did not have and had never seen. While we were there, a man sat in front of the monitors that showed the Cinemagic lectures. He moved from one to another and so on. At closing time as we were all leaving, the man introduced himself as Navascas, Professor of Sculpture at the Academy of the Arts, in Vilnius.

"I never expected this," he said. He (Adolfas) is speaking not just about film. It is universal. I will have my students come to see and hear this Mekas. Brilliant. It is brilliant."

This account was emailed to George by Pola Chapelle, The Widow Mekas

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Hallelujah the Hills played the Film Forum, on January 24th Thursday - 3 screenings during the day and evening - It was included in the 2 weeks of screenings of New American Cinema features of the 60's. For the last screening of Hallelujah the Hills at 7:25pm - Peggy Steffans and Marty Greenbaum (the summer Vera and Leo) spoke with the audience about the filming of the film and about working with Adolfas. The theatre was packed. A good time was had by all.

Brief excerpts from reviews:
"You don't get a more blatant example of cross-cultural foreign exchange than Hallelujah the Hills - Adolfas Mekas' 1963 answer to Franco anarchy that combines silent-comedy slapstick, bizarre love triangles, a dance-off on a cliff and a clip from Griffith's Way Down East into one nutso absurdist tangent. The influence of late Godard shows up in many of the leftist-radicalist run-and-gun productions here..… Only Mekas' comedy however, captures the early free-form spirit of the New Waver and namechecks Breathless to boot."
David Fear
"The L Magazine"

"In this antic, freewheeling comedy from 1962, the director Adolfas Mekas tells a story of love, loss and lunacy as filtered through movie madness - his characters' and his own……"
Richard Brody
"The New Yorker "
 

 

 

     
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