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Sleepless Nights Stories
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10 from 60 votes
Release: 15 December 2011 (USA) /

Sleepless Nights Stories

Genre: Drama
Director: Jonas Mekas,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Critic Reviews


Jonas Mekas' latest video diary consists of segments strung together very loosely on the theme of what Jonas has got up to and who he has seen on nights where he's not been getting to bed. It doesn't always manage to stick to this guideline, and at almost two hours probably could have done with a little cutting. For example two segments document hucksterish performance art of the most banal variety. There's a scene for example when Jonas remembers fellow filmmaker Marie Menken, who he clearly respects deeply, however, he's got short term memory loss and becomes extremely repetitive, saying the word lyrical over and again. If you are interested in Mekas from an autobiographical perspective, then this sort of footage, documenting his ageing process will be of interest, however I think it will cause a lot of casual viewers exasperation. Jonas Mekas has, in my belief, come full circle here, with reminiscences of his childhood connected up to his old age. He describes, as a youngster in Lithuania, being part of nature and laying down in the forest. There's footage of little green lizards, that fits in with this very well, and in the end little children running round a forest.

The cycle of life is shown in a magnificent trio of entries, where we see Hamorny Korine, introduce his new girlfirend, then announcing she's pregnant, and lastly Mekas is filming them carrying around Lefty Korine soon after birth. It called to mind a Brian Aldiss short story, which suggested that life is a simple tune.

There's some sort of outré humour as well, he intersperses video segments with intertitles praising Allah, and introduces quotes of Jesus using the Moslem term for him, Issa. I rewatched an old Hindi movie called Chaudhvin Ka Chand / Full Moon (1961) recently, that was a favourite of my childhood, and was astounded at the change in my consciousness, which is to say my reaction to the Moslem cultural elements in the film, such as full body clothing for the women. For someone who has lived as long as Jonas Mekas, the change must give rise to some element of wry humour. His phraseology harks back to more innocent times, for me evoking Flecker's play, "The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How he Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand", full of bismillahs and mashallahs, where the terms have solely romantic connotations. I think this is in stark contrast to contemporary zeitgeist where Moslem countries are seen as existing behind a curtain of oppression.

I often get a sense of elitism amongst experimental filmmakers, who are always quick to portray their friendships with other members of the club, often as some form of credential / validation. I occasionally wished during this film that Jonas Mekas had gone a little bit more off piste with his late night drinking excursions, the first story, from a worldly sophisticate who longs, after the manner of Voltaire, for the simple life, suggested that this might be the case (although someone will probably message me to say that she was a celebrity). As it is, pretty much everyone in the film classifies as a celebrity or wannabe / groupie. There's a little to much preaching about the nature of being an artist that comes off as being quite snobbish. An illustrative example of this comes from Mekas' recent collaboration with José Luis Guerín (Correspondences) where Guerín shoots footage of Japanese office workers from afar and says that he would never have been able to appreciate them had it not been for the films of Yasujirō Ozu, a statement that illustrates that even people who have some level of elevated consciousness that gives them this status of artist, often are capable of incredibly paltry, facile and downright Coriolanian understanding of ordinary people.

I often am unsure as to why specific footage has been included, there's stuff that hints at a very dark humour and chagrin in his recent video stuff, but the level of intent is hard to engage (if he were to admit intent, he'd probably not be getting the access that he does any more). There's a moment when a group of artistes are cooing over a very old and expensive book which contains prints of Piranesi's "Carceri d'invenzione" (Imaginary Prisons) and has been paraded. I'm given to think that, what comes off as a very superficial adoration, is some sort of grim commentary. I'm given to think in any case Mekas has an eye for provocative multifaceted imagery.

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