Jonas Mekas, ‘Godfather of Underground Cinema,’ Dies at 96

The godfather of underground cinema, Jonas Mekas, has died at age 96. Mekas worked with the titans of New York City’s 1960s avant-garde art scene, including Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono. His loft was a meeting place for experimental artists: The Velvet Underground rehearsed there, and Mekas is said to have introduced the band to Warhol, who produced their debut album. Mekas—who was born in Lithuania and fled the Nazis in 1949—directed some 60 films, published dozens of books, wrote a prominent column on cinema, and co-founded Anthology Film Archives. The Archives, which continues to screen independent and experimental films in New York’s East Village, now has the largest library of experimental film in the world. Mekas’ work is distinctive for its impressionistic, diaristic style, favoring quiet, intimate moments over a grand narrative. “I live how I live and I do what I do, which is recording moments of my life as I move ahead. And I do it because I am compelled to. Necessity, not artistry, is the true line you can follow in my life and work,” the filmmaker told The Observer in 2012. Mekas’ final film, released that same year, is titled “Out-takes from the Life of a Happy Man.”