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Jack Smith (1932 - 1989)

Lifespan: 1932 - 1989

Related: underground cinema - American cinema

Flaming Creatures (1963) - Jack Smith
Filmstill | Jack Smith
image sourced here. Smith was one of the first exponents of the aesthetics which came to be known as Camp and Trash, using cheap and spartan means of production (e.g. using discarded color reversal film stock) to create a visual cosmos heavily influenced by Hollywood kitsch, orientalism and drag culture. His style influenced the film work of Andy Warhol as well as the early work of John Waters. Smith has also been referenced by artists such as Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelley, photographer Nan Goldin, musicians Lou Reed and David Byrne, and theatre director Robert Wilson. Theatre legend Richard Foreman writes that 'Jack Smith is the hidden source of practically everything that's of any interest in the so-called experimental theatre today.' --[1]


Perhaps the most prodding of the pack was queer film artiste Jack Smith (1932-1989). The emphasis on film is misleading and limiting, however. Smith, who was raised in trailers in Ohio and Texas before landing in New York in 1950, was also a brilliant writer, wit, a pioneer in what came to be called performance art and in being an early proponent of using color in fine art photography. But the writings are gulaged in obscure small-press publications, the photographs are hard to find, and the performance pieces with a couple of exceptions were not recorded. (A pity since some observers of the time say his best work could be found there.) --Gary Morris, http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/29/jacksmith.html [Aug 2004]


By all accounts, Jack Smith was one of the most volatile, exhausting and creative of the original members of the New American Cinema group of the early 1960s. Best known for his controversial featurette Flaming Creatures (1963), Smith devoted his life not only to filmmaking but to acting, writing, photography and performance art.

As an actor, Smith first emerged in the underground film work of Ken Jacobs, appearing initially in films like Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice (1957) and Little Cobra Dance (1957), and later in Little Stabs of Happiness (1958–63) and the remarkable Blonde Cobra (1959–63). As a filmmaker, Smith's first offering was Scotch Tape (1959), a single hundred-foot roll of Kodachrome film made with a camera borrowed from Jacobs. Later films included Overstimulated (1960), Normal Love (c.1963) and No President (c.1968), but the film that established Smith's underground following was Flaming Creatures. Shot on the roof of the (now demolished) Windsor Theatre in New York in the summer of 1962 in bright sunlight and on outdated black and white reversal film stock, the picture has a timeless, placeless, ephemeral beauty. In 1963 Film Culture awarded Flaming Creatures its Fifth Independent Film Award, its editorial (written by Jonas Mekas, founder of New York's Anthology Film Archives) stating that:

In Flaming Creatures Smith has graced the anarchic liberation of new American cinema with graphic and rhythmic power worthy of the best of formal cinema. He has attained for the first time in motion pictures a high level of art which is absolutely lacking in decorum; and a treatment of sex which makes us aware of the restraint of all previous film-makers. (1) --Constantine Verevis, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/02/21/flaming.html [Aug 2004]

Flaming Creatures (1963) - Jack Smith

    Flaming Creatures (1963) - Jack Smith
    His own performance style--half dashing, half mongoloid--is better preserved in the Jack Smith routine that caps off Andy Warhol's CAMP: the great man, looking dapper as a Lower East Side Clark Gable, does a ten-minute performance piece about, literally, coming out of a closet. And the late, great Ron Vawter's extraordinary "Roy Cohn/Jack Smith" preserves the molasses, the stupor, and the head-thumping epiphanies that made up a live Jack Smith performance.

    CREATURES, one of the most notorious of all American "avant-garde films," seems at first to be a queer-theory seminar avant la lettre. Then Smith's processional of silent-movie-looking waifs and queenies repeats and repeats. I find George Kuchar and even Kenneth Anger more interesting on similar territory; but Smith is a man-god, and CREATURES should be seen...once. --matthew wilder, imdb.com

On Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures" (and other Secret-Flix of Cinemaroc) () J. Hoberman

On Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures" (and other Secret-Flix of Cinemaroc) () J. Hoberman [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Product Description:
Reviled, rioted over, and banned as pornographic even as it was recognized as an unprecedented visionary masterpiece, Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures" is the most important and influential underground movie ever released in America. J. Hoberman's monograph details the creative making and legal unmaking of this extraordinary film, a source of inspiration for artists as disparate as Andy Warhol, Federico Fellini, and John Waters, as well as a scandal taken to the United States Supreme Court, described by its maker as "a comedy set in a haunted music studio." The story of "Flaming Creatures" is augmented with a dossier of personal recollections, relevant documents, and remarkable, previously unpublished on-set photographs by Norman Solomon. Expanding on notes originally prepared for the 1997 retrospective on Jack Smith at the American Museum of the Moving Image, the monograph includes further material on his unfinished features "Normal Love" and "No President", as well as shorter film fragments. --via Amazon.com

"Jack Smith's photography, film, and performance conjure a world of flagrant passion, campy humor, and morbid beauty." Lawrence Rinder --via Amazon.com

Essay by J. Hoberman. J. Hoberman is Senior Film Critic at "The Village Voice" and author of numerous books of film criticism including "Bridge of Light: Yiddish Films Between Two Worlds, Midnight Movies, Underground Film: A Critical History," and others. --via Amazon.com

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