NOTES ON MARIE MENKENNR
Martina Kudlacek's documentary Notes on Marie Menken establishes how a Lithuanian immigrant became an integral part of the New American film scene of the 1940s and '50s while she purposefully stayed in the background. Menken's work (much of it seen for the first time here) does not represent the best of the avant-garde, but it has its place--just as her life story provides many moments of curiosity and interest.
Kudlacek tells how the tall and temperamental Menken arrived in New York and immediately caught the eye of other experimental artists and filmmakers, including Alfred Leslie, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas and Kenneth Anger. Menken often helped her fellow artists, either by assisting them on shoots or by appearing in their films (such as Andy Warhol's The Chelsea Girls). She also made her own short films but rarely showed them. Encouraged by her friends, Menken finally allowed some of her later works to be screened-including Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961) and Go! Go! Go! (1962-64). But Menken was overshadowed by her contemporaries, particularly Brakhage, whose style was similar but more complex, and Maya Deren, whose style was bolder and more gender-specific.
The generous clips by Menken reveal the work of a creator with a sensitive eye for texture, form and light. Yet her everyday subjects--flowers, for example, in Glimpse of the Garden (1957)--are not unique to formalists. Moreover, the silent shorts are not as thought-provoking as others within the genre. (Modern composer John Zorn scored some of the films for this feature presentation.)
So why did Martina Kudlacek make Notes on Marie Menken? A cynic might say that Kudlacek had access to lots of Menken material and wanted to follow up her profiles of Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid with another, similar project. Menken's life may have been the director's more real inspiration. (She and her husband, filmmaker Willard Maas, were the models for "Martha" and "George" in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.)
Between the archival footage and interviews with Leslie, Anger, Mekas, etc., Kudlacek does a fair job of covering her subject. Certainly, Notes is much better (and less pretentious) than Kudlacek's In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Marie Menken may be a footnote figure, but viewers looking for another small piece of hidden cinema history will admire these Notes.