The year was 1953. I had just moved
into 95 Orchard Street place. The rent was $14.95 a month.
During the days I worked at Lenard Perskie’s Graphic Studios
on West 22nd Street, doing camera work. We did work for the
international edition of Life magazine. I remember making
copies for Archipenko of his old photographs. Despite this,
my real work was to catch up with the best of New York’s
culture. From the day that I landed in New York – that
happened on October 29, 1940 – I submerged myself into the
world of cinema. One of my universities was the MOMA and its
5:30PM daily screenings. Another was Cinema 16 and its
monthly screenings of experimental films at the Needle
Trades School on West 24th Street. I had to see – and did –
everything that was screened in New York and I had to read
everything that had been published on cinema in English. One
publication that was always mentioned with great respect, in
special publications on film as an art, was a mysterious
book entitled An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and Film by
a certain Maya Deren. I combed all the bookshops and
libraries, but could not locate it. I got so frustrated in
my search that I decided to locate the author of the book. I
had heard that she actually lived here in New York on Morton
Street. I was so obsessed with the book that I determined
that I should call and ask her to lend me a copy of the
book. And so I did.
A husky voice came on the line. It was Maya Deren. I
presented her with my problem. “Come, of course I’ll lend
you the book,” she said. We made an appointment.
At the appointed time I arrive, ring the doorbell, and begin
to climb up to I think the fifth floor. I arrive at the top
of the stairs and there is this woman, Maya Deren, staring
at me very weirdly. I expected to meet her very simply and
normally. Instead, I found this woman who seemed somewhat
panicky. I looked at her strange stare and didn’t know how
to react. She was very nervous.
“Anything wrong?” I managed to stammer.
The silent panic continued another moment, then Maya said:
“I really though you were Sasha. You looked so much like
Sasha and I had not expected him.”
I was a little bit confused. But as she received me and we
talked it became clear that Sasha was her recently divorced
husband Sasha Hammid. Still in my old European Displaced
Persons camp cloths, I was very European looking and when
she showed me some pictures of Sasha I understood how close
our resemblance was.
That’s how I met Maya Deren. Not as myself, but as a
doppelganger of Alexander- Sasha Hammid. We became very good
friends immediately. And, of course, I walked out that
afternoon clutching in my hands the thin volume of Anagram.
I met Sasha Hammid in
real life in 1961. I was in the process of making my
first “real” film, Guns of the Trees. Adolfas, my brother,
thought we should get a car to help us move around. I don’t
drive, but Adolfas does. We were told that Hammid had a car
he was trying to sell. So we went to see him.
The first thing that we really appreciated was that the
Hammids, Sasha and his wife Hella, treated us with a good
meal. We were always hungry in those days; we put every
penny either into our filming or Film Culture magazine. So a
meal was always very welcome. Hella even gave us a big bag
of food to take home with us. We especially liked her bread,
which she baked herself. And of course we bought their old
used car. They sold it to us for practically nothing. Their
children called it Papacar. The Papacar served us faithfully
during the filming of Guns. Whenever we visited the Hammids,
the children always were asking us about Papacar. They were
very attached to it.
Sasha helped us in another emergency. We had need of a
tripod. When we told this to Sasha, he went to the closet
and brought a beautiful giro-tripod. “Here it is, use it.”
So we took it and used it for a lot of shooting. But one
night we were stupid enough to leave it in the Papacar in
the street. Next morning it was gone. Luckily, Adolfas was
smart enough to insure it. For months we hid from Sasha the
fact that his tripod was stolen. Then three months later, we
got the insurance money, $300 of it. So we stopped to see
Sasha at 1 West 89th street, where he always lived, and we
handed him the money, apologizing profusely.
Sasha looked at us in disbelief then he began laughing.
“Yes,” he said, “thank-you very much, but that tripod was
only worth thirty dollars.”
We couldn’t believe it. We were quite ignorant about the
prices of movie equipment. We had to believe Sasha. So we
had some good food and some good wine and we celebrated the
stealing of the tripod. I think we split the money.
As the years went, we had many good days and evenings with
the Hammids. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met
in my life.
Jonas Mekas is the founder and
Artistic Director of
Film Archives and is a noted poet and filmmaker. He
serves on the Logos advisory board.