1998. Flaming Creature
I 1st learned about Jack Smith by reading about him in Parker Tyler's book "Underground Film - A Critical History" - maybe in 1973 or thereabouts. You can read my brief review of that here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/16493275 . I'm sure I would've been intrigued by any description of Smith's infamous "Flaming Creatures" there might've been.
But, as with so many underground films, it wasn't until 25 years later that I finally got a chance to see them. I was working as the projectionist / A/V technician at the Andy Warhol Museum as of the late fall of 1996 (& I stayed there for 20 years) & that was a fantastic opportunity for seeing Warhol films & other related work.
Alas, much of the Warhol material, the work of Gregory Markopoulos, & even Smith's work were a disappointment at times. Of course, by 1998, I'd been a moviemaker myself for 23 years so I had high standards.
Despite the disappointment, I've always had a fondness for Smith & his work because of the uniqueness & wackiness of it. In 1994 I'd been in a band in Germany & England called Klauhutte Bangzeit 200(0) (you can see my movie of us, also starring me as the vocalist, here: https://youtu.be/19_pe-nT9u0 ) &, largely thanks to my friend & fellow neoist Gordon W. Zealot, who was one of the founders of the band, they borrowed heavily from Smith's transcendentally campy purple prose.
Gordon had performed in a Jack Smith piece in Toronto, according to this book called "Brassieres of Uranus" performed at The Funnel in 1984, & had stayed friends with him since then. There're a couple of excellent pictures of this performance on page 136, incorrectly identified in the index as being on page 142. If I recall aright, it was another fellow neoist, Via Vidorae, who told me that a performance she saw of Smith's was the best performance she'd ever seen.
Such enthusiasm goes contrary to much or all of what I've read about Smith's performances otherwise. A more common reaction seems to've been that they were tedious to an extreme & that Smith either deliberately or uncontrollably exacerbated this tedium with feigned or real incompetence by being absurdly slow & awkward.
Whatever the case, Zealot was enthusiastic about it all - including the slow pace. Zealot is a chef & drummer trained in India & it's characteristic of his work that he keeps. people. waiting. I remember a wedding he provided late-night food for. Perhaps people were expecting the food to be ready by 10PM. Perhaps they didn't get it untl 4AM & it was veeerrrrrrryyyyy spicy hot. That may seem tortuous &/or sadistic & maybe it was but it was also a type of extremity from Zealot that his friends found remarkable enough to be charming. It was also inspired by Smith.
It was thanks to Gordon that I met Smith at Monty Cantsin (Istvan Kantor)'s apartment in the Lower East Side during the 1988 Neoist Apartment Festival. Smith was talking about dying fabric when I arrived & since that wasn't a subject I was very interested in at the time I probably meandered off to be busy elsewhere. At most, we may've exchanged a few introductory words with each other but I doubt that even that happened.
Later, we went to Tomkins Square Park which was the site of controversy over the rights of people of lower or no-er income to congregate & to use the park as their home of sorts. A reporter from the Village Voice, Cynthia Carr, had been attending some of the APT Fest events & writing somewhat sardonically about them. The article was published in the Voice & later in Carr's 1993 book "On Edge - Performance at the End of the Twentieth Century". The photograph of us at the park made it into both & then eventually into this Jack Smith book:
I'm the one with the zipper clothes whose sweatshirt is on fire. I hadn't noticed that sweatshirt fire as of the time the picture was taken. The person who wrote the descriptive/speculative paragraph at the bottom of the page doesn't seem too clued in about what's going on. As such, when he wrote "as if he had been drawn, out of curiousity or perhaps because of a moment's loneliness, to the periphery of the circle of their activity" he doesn't seem to realize that Jack was a friend & was there because he'd been hanging out with us earlier in the day. Smith died not long thereafter in 1989.
This particular article was written by Ed Leffingwell who was also one of the editors of the book. The book was made in connection with a post-mortem touring exhibit of Smith's work. I met Leffingwell because the exhibit came to the Warhol Museum & he was touring with it.
I've either read or heard from Gordon or both that Smith had a horror of having his work exploited after his death by people who didn't even know him & that he'd, perhaps not seriously, asked friends to destroy his work after he died. I'm glad they didn't. Still, knowing this, it was a bit weird to meet Leffingwell, who I recall as being a perfectly nice guy, & having him recognize me as a guy who was pictured in the book & to then have Leffingwell ask me about Smith because he'd never met him!
That really took me aback. Making the whole exhibit a bit more uncomfortable was that Warhol was a notorious exploiter of people & that Smith had been angry at him because he 'took' Smith's 'superstars', like drag queens Mario Montez & Frances Francine. It's further reputed that Smith was angry at AW's not releasing one of the Warhol movies that Smith was in: "Batman and Dracula". Smith was also in Warhol's "Camp".
As I recall it, &, ahem, it's been awhile, in "Camp" Smith directs the cameraperson to follow him as he walks to a glass-doored cabinet where he points to something, which might be a copy of a Batman comic, as if to gently prod Warhol to release the damned movie.
Regardless of whether this book would've been against Smith's wishes or not, it's beautifully done & it seems to me that Smith's aesthetics are presented in an impressive way. Perhaps the saddest part about it is that Smith didn't have this done for him while he was alive.
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