Jean Genet Only Made One Film; Tonight's Your Chance To Watch It

One of my old friends is a worldwide celebrity now. He was just coming up when we first met 30-40 years ago. Now no one in the world doesn’t know his name if not his films. He sent me his autobiography last week. I haven’t felt like reading it so it’s just sitting on a chair, Roland’s chair. Roland gets home from Cuba tonight and he’ll sit on the book for a few days and then then put it someplace where I may or may not ever see it again. I told Helen, who I once introduced the famous actor to when we were walking down the street in Manhattan. She remembered that; I didn’t. She said I should read a chapter and see if I like it. That seemed like a decent idea. But I didn’t want to use it for that book. On my desk, between my chair and Roland’s chair is another book.

A few weeks ago I told my friend Jeff that I’m writing a memoir and he suggested I read Jonas Mekas’ A Dance With Fred Astaire. He ordered the book and had it shipped to my house. It’s been sitting there. I see it everyday. I remember Jonas Mekas from when I was a teenager. He was the film critic for the Village Voice and a purveyor of avant-garde films. My friend Sandy Pearlman admired him and spoke rhapsodically about his work. He smuggled a banned printed of Jean Genet’s only film, Un Chant D’Amour (above) into the U.S. and was subsequently arrested for showing it publicly.

Mekas died a couple of years, age 96. He had out out A Dance With Fred Astaire two years earlier. This is what Amazon has to say about it:

2022 marks the centennial of the birth of Jonas Mekas, the godfather of American avant-garde cinema. A Dance with Fred Astaire is an extraordinary collection of anecdotes and rare ephemera featuring a dizzying cast of cultural icons both underground and mainstream, both obscure and celebrated. Memories and diary entries, conversations and insights into his work sit alongside collages of beautifully reproduced postcards, newspaper cuttings, film negatives, lists, posters and photographs, envelopes and letters, book covers, telegrams, cartoons and doodles. Mekas has kept and archived the artifacts of his life as a cultural touchstone down to the minutiae, all of which is brought together here in the form of a unique and fascinating scrapbook of a life lived with the highest artistic commitment. Guided by Mekas’s distinctive prose and suffused with warmth, A Dance with Fred Astaire is rhapsodic, poetic and funny as all get out. A revealing visual autobiography of a genuine culture hero.

I defrosted some mulligatawny soup that my friend Steve brought me— among lots of other healthy frozen soups, to help me through my recuperation from thyroid surgery— along with a grilled cheese sandwich. I worked as a chef for nearly 4 years in Amsterdam. After the Great COVID Interruption I’ve become an even better chef now than I was when I was doing it every day. But I had never made a grilled cheese sandwich in my life. It was delicious. It’s all about the quality of the cheeses. Anyway, I sat down to eat my little feast and decided to do what Helen had suggested, but with Mekas’ book. I read a chapter— one page. I liked it and read another and another and another. I can’t put it down.

Then I watched Un Chant D’Amour. I watched it because I was intrigued by Mekas' story about smuggling it into the U.S. and about being arrested for showing it and because Jean Genet is one of my favorite writers and I was just talking about him with an aspiring filmmaker, Spencer, who makes all the digital ads for Blue America these days. A warning: some people might find Un Chant D’Amour upsetting or as offensive as one of the censors who banned it did. You might want to skip it. I’m glad I watched it though. If you like it... you might like this little post with the Patti Smith film about Genet.