By George Capsis
A month or two before Jonas Mekas died, he and his son Sebastian came to my kitchen table at 69 Charles Street to talk about raising money to fix up the Film Forum on Second Avenue and East 2nd Street. Jonas pulled from his briefcase a transcript of our first meeting 60 years earlier in their tenement apartment on Orchard Street. Jim Fouratt, sometimes-film critic for WestView, snatched the transcript away and I have not seen it (nor Jim) since. But I discovered that Jonas and his brother Adolphus were big journal writers, and also that several subsequent meetings I had with Jonas were recorded and are written about in his just-released book.
I was invited to speak about Mekas at the ancient Film Forum on Second Avenue (three flights up). A dark cold Sunday brought an East Village crowd, nevertheless. Everybody seemed to be “an artist.” As I sat and listened to the first speakers, I thought I might learn a little more about what Jonas had done in his 96 years that would bring such a reverential crowd.
I was given the book a few days before the Film Forum event, was cautioned that I was only mentioned in Chapter 4 (the very early years), and sure enough, found my name but could not recreate or remember the conversations during which “George said” and “George disagreed.” Another shocker was that my father, very very Greek, but nevertheless a real estate broker, negotiated repeatedly and unsuccessfully with Jonas about renting a movie house, and may have been the broker for the Film Forum.
I met Jonas with Dick Brummer, whose family owned the Brummer Gallery (of antiques) on East 57th Street. Making 16 millimeter “art” films was just beginning and we decided to gather everybody together to make a sort of mutual support club; Jonas was one of the people we decided to include.
Dick and I went down to Orchard Street which was THE Jewish shopping street and found the Mekas apartment bereft of furniture except for two beds and a table/desk. There was no bathtub but they had discovered the cold-water pipe in the ceiling, jammed an ice pick into it, and took showers by standing in a white porcelain pan. Jonas proudly showed me a draft for his would-be magazine Film Culture and I told him, to his instant rejection, that “culture” was not the right word.
As my age exceeds that of the oldest deceased in the Times obits each morning, I think of how I will be remembered—and it will only be for slapping a cop and shouting at a politician who lost St. Vincent’s Hospital.