When Experimental Film Making met Experimental Music

While Lithuanian-American film maker and critic Jonas Mekas who died at 96 in late January was best-known for his championing of experimental cinema starting at the mid-1950s, The Wire’s Alan Licht reveals the filmmaker’s links to experimental music during the same period. While Mekas was promoting avant-garde poetic, erotic and sometimes irritating personal films being made by the likes of Jack Smith, Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger, some of the ideas for these films came from his and other movie makers’ interaction with exploratory players and composers. These include the nearly infinite music composed by La Monte Young, and soundtracks or intermedia events featuring the Fugs and future Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and John Cale, plus contributions Tony Conrad, who later became film maker and educator as well as a musician. In later years younger players such as Licht and Lee Renaldo would use some of Mekas’ film as the background visuals for improvised performances.