When Mekas?s Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania opened in October 1972, the mainstream press, as was to be expected, failed to understand the film, because they judged it by the standards of Hollywood film product, rather than as a work of the avant-garde. My own take as a twenty-one year old was that the film was only a failure if judged by the standards of Hollywood film criticism, given its jerky and nervous camera, its over- and under-exposed images, and its rapid editing; I deemed it successful as a consciously constructed work of art. I understood that Mekas? narration and utilization of folk and classical music took the film out of the realm of purely formal experiment and into a highly personal form of cinema.In particular, I was struck by Mekas? attachment to the natural environment of his native Lithuania: ?The shots are loving, because, coming from peasant stock, Mekas? roots were totally entrenched in the land. All the more traumatic was his exile because he was exiled not only from his homeland, but from the land, the soil.? I specifically comment on the scenes taking place in Vienna, which are marked by a sense of stability and permanence symbolized by Peter Kubelka (a lifelong resident of Vienna), the monastery with its centuries old library, etc. However, even that sense of permanence, in contrast to the transitory nature of the exile experience, is ironically undercut by the final scene of the fire, destroying Vienna?s old fruit market.
A couple more years would pass before any one understood the significance of what Mekas was doing in regards to what would be later called diary cinema. True, he had already released his earlier diary film, Diaries, Notebooks, and Sketches (1969), but I do not think even Mekas understood that he was in the process of creating a new film form, which would ultimately secure him a place in film history as a filmmaker, and not just as a critic, polemicist, exhibitor, and archivist of the avant-garde.
Subtitles:English (srt), French (sub), Lithuanian (sub)