Paradise or Camelot?

Published September 23, 2011

“It was in 1970 when one day Peter Beard, an old friend of mine who was tutoring the Kennedy children, called me and asked me if I would help Jackie get a movie camera for her children and give some lessons in filming,” says Lithuanian-born writer, curator, and avant film pioneer Jonas Mekas of his first introduction to the famed family. This collaboration gave rise to This Side of Paradise (1999), Mekas’s now-lauded 16 mm film that documents Montauk summers of teaching, friendship, and life with the Kennedys through montages of the group’s joyous every day encounters. “I originally began filming because Jackie wanted me to make her family movie,” recalls Mekas. “But kept on filming—our meetings, the four children on Andy Warhol’s estate, just a great time—even after the project was abandoned.”

This Saturday, an exhibition of stills from the film will be on view at Soho’s agnès b. Images of John and Patrick riding in the back of the family car, Caroline swimming in the ocean, and the entire family testing out their own cameras spotlight what Mekas remembers as times of “real happiness and total immersion in the present” in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s still close death. “Yes, we know, these are children of parents that made history,” says Mekas, “but here they are just children like any other, caught in moments of carefree childhood.” The artist looks forward to presenting forty portraits, along with 40 by Robert Polidori, at New York’s Edwynn Houk Gallery in February, as well as making the festival rounds with the five feature films and six shorts he made this past year.