Renowned experimental filmmaker and film critic Jonas Mekas, who influenced artists ranging from Andy Warhol to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, died Wednesday at the age of 96.
The Anthology Film Archives, which Mekas founded in 1970, confirmed Wednesday on Instagram, “Dear Friends, Jonas passed away quietly and peacefully early this morning. He was at home with family. He will be greatly missed but his light shines on.”
Known as the “Godfather of Avant-Garde Cinema” among cinephiles, the Lithuanian-born Mekas founded the seminal film magazine Film Culture in 1954 and became the Village Voice‘s first film critic in 1958.
An experimental artist, Mekas’ works — including 1969’s Walden and 2000’s As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty — presented a series of non-linear images and home movies stitched together by his own monotone narration. “I live, therefore I make films. I make films, therefore I live,” Mekas said in Walden, which also featured the earliest known footage, filmed a few years earlier, of the Velvet Underground:
Mekas was a fixture and influential presence in New York’s film and arts scene. In addition to founding the Anthology Film Archives (located in the East Village, it holds one of the largest collections of avant-garde cinema), he inspired some of the most significant artists of our time. Mekas is credited with introducing Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground, who rehearsed in Mekas’ New York loft, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono invited Mekas and his camera to capture the couple’s “Bed-In for Peace” in Montreal in 1969.
“The cinema, like any other art, is like a big tree with many, many branches,” Mekas told the Village Voice in 2017. “Some are bigger, some are smaller, but all of them are important, and the smallest ones sometimes are more important than the big ones — because they catch the light, the sun, they feed the big lump of the tree.”
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Harmony Korine said of Mekas in a 2012 Guardian profile, “Jonas is a true hero of the underground and a radical of the first degree — a shape-shifter and time-fucker… He sees things that others can’t… His cinema is a cinema of memory and soul and air and fire. There is no one else like him. His films will live forever.”