As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
19May/150

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)

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Experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas assembled over thirty years of footage to create an ode to his city, his family, and his life.  This is As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty.

Out into the wavesIf I sat you down and asked you to create a motion picture about your life, what would you do? There’s the typical biopic response of creating a narrative which takes the audience through a cradle to grave structure of the subject’s life. The less common take on the biographical film is to focus on a defining moment in someone’s life. The least common, and most rewarding, is to take that life and deal with it in the abstract. Very few films attempt this last category because it’s seemingly impossible to determine what the core “essence” of someone is, let alone artistically abstract it.

This is what makes As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (from this point on As I Was Moving) such a remarkable experience. It is a radically experimental as a film which runs just a shade over five hours in length and consists entirely of energetic, messy, and heavily altered footage. But it is also as surprisingly conventional, leading the audience down an emotional memory lane constructed entirely from footage taken from home videos.

Picking one accomplishment over the others in As I Was Moving is difficult enough, but if I had to settle on one it would be that director Jonas Mekas created the kind of film I found insufferable when Stan Brakhage tried. Brakhage’s home movie experiments were navel-gazing to their core and puttered about with bad poetry and typically uninspired experiments. But Mekas attains a weird momentum throughout As I Was Moving because he never allows the shot to stay in one place for very long, yet still stays within a quickly established visual theme before moving to the next location.

Mekas interrupts his film with little interludes as a way of reminding himself to get back on track if he spends too long on a single subject.

Mekas interrupts his film with little interludes as a way of reminding himself to get back on track if he spends too long on a single subject.

When Mekas and his family are out on the streets his energy is palpable. The cuts are frequent, the lights bright, and it seems as though the film can’t keep up with the joy of being around so many lives. But when Mekas spends time in his favorite place in the world, Central Park, the shots become almost imperceptibly longer. He lingers on just his family, the food, and the way the lush ground connects with the open sky. While As I Was Moving progresses it becomes clear that these occasions for beauty are greater than the title might suggest, but this may be all he was able to capture.

Considering the wealth of footage in As I Was Moving it’s a small wonder the experience isn’t exhausting just to keep up with. But the way Mekas emotionally compartmentalized different stages of his life keeps the good vibes shifting around in different ways. We’ll spend some time watching his children, then go for a walk along the streets, rest in front of a fire, then lay down with his wife. What is mundane in description becomes magical in motion as each of these moments contain a moment of bliss or visual perfection which sums up whatever state he is currently focusing on. There are silhouettes in front of a fire, figures which surprisingly disappear into the darkness when a candle is lit, lens flare cracking through the trees and around buildings, and so many images of his family and friends collecting as a happy unit in front of the camera.

We spend time with Mekas' family and watch them grow over decades.

We spend time with Mekas' family and watch them grow over decades.

Mekas accomplishes something I rarely see and makes the entire world seem alive. These “brief glimpses of beauty” are not one specific image in the frame but everything occurring within the view of the camera. He creates a fusion of the artificial and the natural, the living and the dead, and generates an environment where man and animal (often cats, to my delight) live in constant harmony with one another.

As the Mekas’ world unfolded the slight intrusion of intertitles became more important and then the words “so life goes on” flashed on the screen and I felt tears well up. Life does go on, these beautiful moments will be forgotten, and As I Was Moving is as much about what precious moments constitute your life as it is about Mekas’. What are you salvaging in your memories? What motion picture plays when you go to sleep at night?

At 92 years old, Mekas lets his work meander like a good storyteller, pursuing emotions with memory and music while letting one lifetime flow into the next. His eyes are still playful, his demeanor self-effacing (he mentions how pointless the film is many times), and his history a beautiful open book for us to peruse. Sometimes I feel guilty watching someone live their life on film, as though the camera is intruding on something not meant for my eyes. As I Was Moving invites us to watch, and delights if we can feel any of the same happiness and comfort.

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Title - As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of BeautyAs I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)

Directed by Jonas Mekas.

Posted by Andrew

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