Bridging the Absence: Jonas Mekas’s Hybrid Cinema


  • Angelo Grossi Università Ca' Foscari Venezia



Jonas Mekas, hybrid cinema, migration, intermediality


In this essay I will focus on Jonas Mekas’s ‘diary films’ such as Walden (1969), Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), and Lost Lost Lost (1975), interpreting them as a trilogy that constitutes one of the most seminal expressions of Laura Marks’s theoretical notion of “hybrid cinema” or “experimental diasporan cinema” (1994). As Marks argues, experimental diasporan films are characterized by an autobiographical attitude that “mediates a mixture of documentary, fiction, and experimental genres” in an aesthetic effort to create a formal correlative of the liminal and multicultural identities of diasporic auteurs (1994, 245). Moreover, they often incorporate intermedial strategies.

This notion applies to Mekas’s films, which have been variously defined as diary films, documentaries, essay films, film-poems, home-movies (although the home represented is often a lost Heimat), and through the generic label of ‘avant-garde.’ His films are animated by a sense of identity (and of the film itself) as an unfinished process, which is exemplified by Mekas’s gestural and erratic camera. This process is put into dialogue with a sense of perpetual nostalgia that both reflects and repairs the discontinuity of the self, binding past and present. The resulting tension is further visible in the gap between Mekas as a (self-proclaimed) ‘filmer’—simultaneously filming and experiencing reality—and as a filmmaker—selecting the material, editing, and commenting it through his voice-over and the use of intertitles. Through the contemplation and enactment of this gap, Mekas’s intimate experience of loss and exile becomes a collective narrative shared with the spectators.


Astruc, Alexandre. “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Caméra-Stylo.” 1948. Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Scott MacKenzie. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. 603-607.

Clüver, Claus. “Ekphrasis Reconsidered: On Verbal Representations of Non-Verbal Texts.” Interart Poetics: Essays on the Interrelations Between the Arts and Media. Edited by Ulla-Britta Lagerroth, Hans Lund and Erik Hedling. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997. 19-33.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. 1985. London: The Athlone Press, 2005.

Ghosh, Bishnupriya and Bhaskar Sarkar. “The Cinema of Displacement: Towards a Politically Motivated Poetics.” Film Criticism 20.1/2 (1995): 102-113.

Heffernan, James A.W. Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Higbee, Will. “Beyond the (Trans)National: Towards a Cinema of Transvergence in Postcolonial and Diasporic Francophone Cinema(s).” Studies in French Cinema 7.2 (2007): 79-91.

James, David E. “Film Diary/Diary Film: Practice and Product in Walden.” To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 145-179.

Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Krstić, Igor. “Accented Essay Films: The Politics and Poetics of the Essay Film in the Age of Migration.” World Cinema and the Essay Film: Transnational Perspectives on a Global Practice. Edited by Igor Krstić and Brenda Hollweg. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019. 55-69.

MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Jonas Mekas.” October 29 (1984): 82-116.

Marks, Laura U. “A Deleuzian Politics of Hybrid Cinema.” Screen 35.3 (1994): 244-264.

---. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Mekas, Jonas. Diaries, Notes and Sketches (also known as Walden). 1968.

---. Lost, Lost, Lost. 1976.

---. Movie Journal: The Rise of the New American Cinema 1959-1971. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

---. Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania. 1972.

---. “The Diary Film (A Lecture on Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania).” 1972. The Documentary Film Reader: History, Theory, Criticism. Edited by Jonathan Kahana. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 737-741.

Mitchell, William John Thomas. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Nygren, Scott. “Film Writing and the Figure of Death: He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life.” To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground. Edited by David E. James. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 241-254.

Rajewsky, Irina. “Intermediality, Intertextuality, and Remediation: A Literary Perspective on Intermediality.” Intermédialités: histoire et théorie des arts, des lettres et des techniques/Intermediality: History and Theory of the Arts, Literature and Technologies 6 (2005): 43-64.

Renov, Michael. “Lost, Lost, Lost: Mekas as Essayist.” To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground. Edited by David E. James. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 215-239.

Sitney, Adams P., edited by. Film Culture Reader. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000.

Trivelli, Anita. “Modernità e attualità della pratica diaristica di Jonas Mekas.” Modernità nelle Americhe. Vol. 1. Edited by Veronica Pravadelli. Roma: Roma Tre-Press, 2016. 141-168.






Articles: Special Section