Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania

When Jonas Mekas first came to America he knew that he couldn't speak English very well, so in order for him to express himself in a way for everyone to understand, he used film. Mekas desperately tried to capture every moment of life, to keep as a memory. His films became one great diary.

Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania represents a journey back in time. Mekas tries to salvage his identity, that of a displaced person. There are three parts to the film. The first is made of footage with his first Bolex during his first year in America mostly from 1950 through 1953. Mekas shows miscellaneous footage of immigrants picnicking, dancing, and swimming. Mekas even labels the immigrants in Williamsburg as "Displaced Persons." All these people should represent a sense of community; Mekas interprets them in a different manner. "They looked to me like sad dying animals in a place they didn't exactly belong to, in a place they didn't exactly recognize," he notices, "We are still displaced persons even Ítoday. The minute we left we started going home and we are still going home, I am still on my way home." In other words, Mekas is desperate to try to find a place where he feels comfortable; he is constantly remembering the past, and the war and how the war scarred his memories. He cannot escape his memories. The voice (Mekas's) plays an important role in part one. He sets a tone early in the film, which is very melancholy and almost dreamlike. His past weighs heavy on his mind; we feel his emotions through his narration. Even the images we see are long and drawn out. Mekas does not quickly cut from one image to another. He captures one moment while speaking slowly and softly, then proceeds to the next image. Part one works as an introduction to Mekas's constant irritation of the way he feels, that of a displaced person. A close-up of a rope dangling from a tree ends the first part of the film and Mekas says, "I've escaped the ropes of time once more." Meaning that he is grateful that he was able to escape war and find freedom in America, even though he cannot help his feeling of not belonging.

Part 2 "100 Glimpses of Lithuania," the numbers seen in this part punctuate each memory that he wants us to focus on. I don't believe that the glimpses are in any precise order. All of the events revolve around Mekas's return to home. Part two introduces his family and friends; most of the images are of his aging mother, who is still hard at work. He refers to his "mama" continuously putting her on a pedestal above all else. "Mama" was born in 1887 and he finally got to see her again after 25 years. "His mother is almost a fantasy, the memories like to mother, cannot be possessed." (Maureen Turim.) After dreaming of his "mama" for 25 years, I suppose finally seeing her and being able to touch her would be like a dream. Mekas captures her every move. At one point we see a close up of the berries that "mama" holds in her hand and no sound is heard at all. The images of "mama" are almost angelic and Mekas's voice is so melancholy and romantic that one can feel his love for his mama.

Mekas celebrates with singing, dancing, and eating with his friends and family. We see him enjoying his stay, and at the same time being hopelessly determined to recover his past or to make time stand still in Lithuania. "Those were beautiful days." Many images that we see involve the tradition of Lithuania. For example his aging mother traditionally, hard at work. Also, Mekas's brothers Petra and Kostas, joke about how foreign countries (America) might see Lithuania, because the country has not changed. They still use a sickle and plow to farm, and they still use hay to make beds for guests. "Mekas nearly achieves his objective of reliving memories, of meeting time, which stood still for him while he was in exile," (Maureen Turim.)

Part 3 concludes his journey to relive his past when Mekas makes a trip to Hamburg to revisit the work camp and factory when he and his brother were sent when they were arrested for attempting to reach Vienna. The same tone is set in part 3 as part 2, again Mekas wants to attain the past. For example Adolfas Mekas is filmed laying in the grass where his bed in the camp would have been and Jonas revisits the workbench where he was punished for his slowness. The remainder of part 3 shows Mekas and four friends celebrating in Vienna of their contributions to the cinema. He tells his friends how he longs to find himself, and to find a home where he doesn't feel like a "displaced person". The last part of the film is Mekas's attempt to center himself in the world, by use of tradition; in this case the tradition is religion.

In Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania, Mekas devoted the film to the recovery and explanation of his past. In part two he seeks to recover the past in the present, where the mother is the most obsessive glimpse out of the 100. The third part tries to answer the reason for his obsessive nature. He tries to model himself after someone who grew up in a world of no change. His camera is so restless, and the images he records are memories. Memory restores the possibility of community and allows him a place in history, giving Mekas hope that he can belong to a community.


James, E., Davis. (1992). To Free The Cinema, 205-211. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Mekas, Jonas. (1971-1972, 82 minutes.) Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania.

Russel, Thomas. (1998). Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self.

Turim, Maureen. (1989). Flashbacks in Film: Memory and History. New York: Routledge.

Turim, Maureen. (1998). "Reminiscences, Subjectivites, and Truths," in James, To Free the Cinema, 210.

--Kimberly DeSoto, 2001

Anthology Film Archives catalog entry

Mekas Work