In 1964, Jonas and Adolfas made “The Brig,” a filmed version of Kenneth Brown’s play about a Marine Corps prison as staged by the Living Theater. Since then his best-known films have been highly personal documentaries, including “Lost, Lost, Lost” (1976) and “As I Was Moving Ahead I Saw Occasional Glimpses of Beauty” (2000); these films made use of spliced-together film-diary footage he had shot over many years.
Another, “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania” (1972), told the story of his first visit home, accompanied by Adolfas, who made his own film of their journey, “Going Home.” When the two films were shown together at the New York Film Festival, Vincent Canby of The Times wrote that the evening was “rather more brimful of Mekases than one might ordinarily seek out, yet it’s also successively moving, indulgent, beautiful, poetic, banal, repetitious and bravely, heedlessly personal.”
In recent years Mr. Mekas was a subject of a series of articles in The Times called “85 and Up,” in which the reporter John Leland followed a group of elderly New Yorkers as they navigated the upper end of old age in the city.
Last year, Mr. Mekas was the subject of a documentary, “I Had Nowhere to Go,” by the Scottish artist and filmmaker Douglas Gordon. The title is the same as that of a volume of Mr. Mekas’s published diaries.
Mr. Mekas’s marriage to Hollis Melton in the early 1970s ended in divorce in the early 2000s, his son said. In addition to his son, Mr. Mekas is survived by a daughter, Oona Mekas, and a granddaughter.
“There is no formula,” Mr. Mekas said in 2010 when asked to define the avant-garde. He added: “The avant-garde is always the front line in any field. In science, in music, where somebody just comes in, moving ahead into some totally unknown area, the future, and doing something not so much that people aren’t used to, but going maybe to different content, using different techniques, different technology.
“That’s the avant-garde to me,” he continued. “That’s where usually it’s all very fragile, and on the front line is where usually most of the bullets hit you. Most of the attacks are directed against the front line. It’s that area that I felt needed somebody who would defend it from all those critics and those attacks. So that was my function, to try to help those very fragile new developments.”