Review: As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty
directed by Jonas Mekas (2000)
This world of ours is inscrutably bound to objective time. It traverses linearly, without any evident divagating from this prescribed course of action. Yet we, who inhabit this world so firmly, do not. Our existence is more or less entangled in the cobweb of what Julian Barnes terms as ‘personal time’. Personal time, Barnes says, is measured in our relationship to memory. But what is memory, if not discontinuous events sewn together, a mere patchwork of occurrences? Add to this perplexity Nietzsche’s ad infinitum, that all events which materialize are basically a part of a repetitive, continuous cycle and you have a basic understanding of the primordial nature of this masterwork by Jonas Mekes.
It is on the screen and even in theory, a work of utter chaos. There is no central line to hold the design together, nor does Mekes even make an effort to hint at the possibility of employing one. ‘Nothing happens in this film’ flashes repeatedly. However, Mekes’ occasional narrations go in complete contrast to this, referring repeatedly to a sibylline underlining to the occurrences. What results is a free flowing film like none other in remembrance, which bends time, runs forwards and backwards with it, and at places, folds in on itself. Many have seen through the veil of chaos over the years following its release, arguing that there is an indiscernible syntax that only Mekes seems to be privy to. I suppose there is, but, frankly, you don’t think about it while the movie plays.
As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty is an experience to behold. Mekes concocts a world where memories, sounds, emotions are all muted, not meandering to leave a mark, but rather trespassing through briefly, as if only to garner, if not our admiration, just a slight bit of attention towards them. It is a paradise in its own right, which does not follow a straight line to the unknown but rather moves in a circle among know objects. The monotony however breeds happiness, not boredom. And then are indescribable moments of sheer beauty. They spring out of nowhere, like a beautifully lit Christmas tree or a child smiling with the ecstasy of her first walk. These are moments we have overlooked in our own lives, yet here with Mekes living it in moment and we in retrospect, they seem priceless and accrue our love for them. It is a spellbinding film, but not in the conventional sense, since it encourages us to drift away in the midst of the experience, asking us to enjoy Mekes’ memories and then perceive it with the prism of our own being.
Yet, what is the point of the film? The point, dear reader, is to document a life without compartmentalizing its components into the polarities of important and not important. For Mekes, his wedding deserves no more due than his daughter playing Soltaire or a man crossing a road. Every moment is the ultimate in his eyes, since in every one of them, a bit of us breathes into existence at its emanation and perishes at its denouement. When the credits rolled, I imagined Immanuel Kant sitting at a corner of the theater, with tears of happiness rolling down his cheeks.
written by Anand Nair