The Living Theater showing The Brig

These days The Living Theater started it’s 2008 tour with a new production of ‘The Brig’ by Kenneth Brown. The piece was first presented at The Living Theater at 14th St. and Sixth Avenue in 1963, but has gained new actuality not only by the remembrance of 40 years since 1968, but by hitting the nerve of times in which we have to face the existence, injustice and cruelty of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and a worldwide discussion about the legitimacy of military interference.

For those who cannot see the play it exists – besides an interesting documentation on the legendary Living Theater – a film made in 1964 by Jonas Mekas, which won in the category of best documentary in Venice.

Mekas at the time described his film as …

If anyone still wants to make a “real” movie out of Brown’s play, to “adapt” it to cinema–he may well do it. Brown once told me he had an idea for a million dollar production of The Brig, with thousands of prisoners. It should be done. The point of cruelty done by one man to another can never be overstressed. I, myself, I am not interested in adapting plays, I always said so and I am repeating it here again. The Brig, the movie, is not an adaptation of a play: It is a film play; it is record of my eye and my temperament lost in the play. –Jonas Mekas, “Shooting the Brig”, 1965 (1)

What is remarkable about Jonas Mekas’s The Brig is neither simply the clarity with which it tells us about the American military nor its interest as a record of a theatrical production in the 60s. Rather, as Mekas himself suggests, it is a record of Mekas himself–a record of Mekas’s own understanding of and relation to repressive societal apparatuses and the social function of art. We will read The Brig in the context not only of Mekas’s personal trajectory as historical subject and filmmaker, but in so far as that trajectory is carved in the broader film, protest and beat cultures of which he was a part. We hope thereby to trace and illuminate some of the contradictions endemic to the specific filmic, social, and political practices prevalent in some oppositional cultures of the 60s in America, especially in relation to a dominant register of that opposition, the problem of agency.
(read on: The Brig: the paradox of resistance and recuperation.)

An interview with Mekas can be found on the senses of cinema website.

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