From 1990 to 1991, long before the era of TiVo and YouTube, avant-garde pioneer and proponent Jonas Mekas spent at least four hours and 46 minutes in front of his television with a video camera, recording news programs and live reports as a way of documenting the long awaited independence of his native country of Lithuania and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And that’s more or less the body of the four-part Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR. From a man who considers himself a “filmer” rather than a filmmaker, it’s a simple but bold take on the diary form with which he has become virtually synonymous, as well as a video project that almost 20 years after its conception now takes on—due to foresight or just a coincidence in the timing of its completion—layers of conceptual and immediate meaning in a radically altered media landscape.
Mekas’s shooting begins with the peak of Lithuania’s democratic independence movement in January 1990 and Gorbachev’s desperate visit to the country to quell the peaceful uprising; it ends more than a year later with the newly sovereign state surviving a Soviet blockade and a small-scale military response and earning a place among the united nations. Historic events are largely communicated through the three major television networks, plus an ascendant CNN (that channel’s coup, the Gulf War, is the cause of speculation that the United States is going soft on the USSR just as Lithuania is seeking allies), in the form of generically edited news reports, interviews with world leaders, and roundtable discussions featuring experts and observers, all chosen according to Mekas’s hunger for information and his channel surfing abilities. Anything not related to Lithuania’s quest for freedom is instantly jettisoned. Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR.