From Stan Brakhage Remembrances:

Jonas Mekas

Printed in MFJ No. 41 (Fall 2003) Lesbian and Gay Experimental Cinema/Stan Brakhage Remembrances


In December of 1959 a screening took place at the Living Theater, corner of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue, New York. A program of five or six films was projected. One of the films was Stan Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving in its New York premiere. Stan was the projectionist for the evening. After the screening of Stan’s film, Maya Deren came before the audience to declare, very emphatically, that giving birth was a very “private matter” and it shouldn’t ever be filmed. “Even the animals, when they give birth, retreat into a secret place,” said Maya. I do not remember Stan replying to Maya. He was in very low spirits that evening. He was hungry, broke, and depressed. What follows is a piece I wrote for my Village Voice Movie Journal column. The piece, however, was misplaced at the Voice and it was never published. I found it some years later. Here it is.

—Jonas Mekas 2003


Down the stairs stumbles a policeman. “Avant-garde films!” he curses angrily. “I felt there was something queer going on.”

A huge crowd is milling outside. No more tickets. In the auditorium the screen is almost dark. A few reflections, a beam of light. Suddenly, a doorway appears, a cup, a hand, a shadowy face. All reality broken, destroyed, no realism.

“Bravo!” shouts a man. “Boo!” shouts another voice. “My bravo was louder than your boo!” retorts the first voice. Again a silence. Now the shadowy figures are embracing, in the huge, animal darkness.

There is a man on the stage now, before the screen, talking something, half drunk, half inspired. “Willard Maas…” a voice whispers. “He was not drunk when he made his two films,” whispers a youth leaning by the wall. He came from New Jersey to see the films.

On the screen: A dark blob is eating a yellow blob. “What cute things!” shouts a mountain of a woman from the back. “Marie Menken…she made the film…” a voice whispers. The black strange thing finishes devouring the yellow thing, and creeps on the window.

On the screen: A young man looks at his hand. It trembles. It jumps. A hand of inspiration, not a real hand. A hand of a poet. A fist. “Cocteau!” shouts a bearded man. He tries to walk out, in protest. He steps over the heads, gives up, cannot pass, sits on the floor. In the back, by the wall, somebody applauds violently the birth of a new film poet.

In the lobby a man pulls from under his coat a huge can of film and passes it to a young man with a moustache—this is a free exchange market of the avant-garde, both ideas and stock. Boultenhouse, whose first film poem was just screened, is surrounded now. He has to answer questions about cameras, someone is in the middle of making a film, another one is searching for a cameraman.

On the screen: a wild party. A few youths, drunk, exulted with adolescent nonsense, stare at a couple kissing. One jumps up, and runs to the couple, sticks his face close to them. “Ha! Ha!” he laughs loudly—and he runs wildly around, laughing, with a face drunk and crazy and ablaze.

On the screen, probably for the first ever in film history: a woman gives birth to a child. We see it all. The woman is ecstatic. And so is the father. The audience is totally silent.

In the backstage, high up on the ladder, the projectionist, author of the film, Brakhage. It is cold there. A cup of stale coffee besides the machine. “It is bad. I have ten more films ready. But no money for printing. This is the end. Nobody wants to help experimental films,” he talks to another man, sitting on the end of a garbage barrel—

At the Living Theater, last Monday.

—Jonas Mekas, December 1959