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,
'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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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."
"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……"
"The New Yorker "