By Gonzalo de Pedro Amatria
Perhaps the only possible reading of any memoir is a blind reading—one made in the dark without the light of images, letting oneself be lulled by the voice, real or imagined, of its author or protagonist. Memory—the source of inventions, lies, errors and misunderstandings—is a fascinating and dangerous space, too close to nostalgia and homesickness, to intellectual, vital and emotional paralysis. Jonas Mekas, filmmaker, artist, writer, bon vivant, and survivor, fled Nazi persecution in Lithuania when he was 22 years old, and has made memory and the search for home the basis of all his work, filling this absence with images of happiness, searching, and the enjoyment of life. How then can one shoot that gap that set the stage for decades of film work? How to film memory without illustrating it, without betraying it?
I Had Nowhere to Go, Douglas Gordon’s film-with-voiceover from Mekas, starts with a radical decision: such a thing is impossible, and the only possible counter-shot of the life in images that Mekas himself has built is to be found in the black—the vacuum counter-shot, the absence and the voice. Thus, the film is constructed as a guide by the blackness of a life in perpetual escape, in perpetual quest. A huge black space, punctuated by but a few images (some steps in the snow, some onions cooking, caged animals), with Mekas’ voice narrating the life between experience, filmed, imagined, or remembered. “You’re welcome to read all this as fragments from someone’s life, or as a letter of a homesick stranger, or as a novel, pure fiction. Yes, you’re welcome to read this as fiction. The subject, the plot, is my life. The villain? The villain is the 20th century,” says Mekas at one point. I Had Nowhere to Go is an extreme walk through a wandering life, encapsulating the experience of fleeing, the refugee, the expelled, the persecuted, one who is condemned to never return home. Mekas: “Are we going home soon?”