Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Retrospective of Jack Smith, Including FLAMING CREATURES, NORMAL LOVE, and World Premiere of a Performance Piece, Opens September 8 at Metrograph

Jack Smith

6 Program Retrospective Includes Flaming Creatures, Normal Love,
Collaborations with Ken Jacobs, and World Premiere of Performance Piece
Jack Smith at University of Colorado 

Co-Presented by Artists Space
Beginning September 8, Metrograph will present a six-program retrospective of Jack Smith. Smith’s (1932–1989) virtuosic output is revered for its caustic humor, self- invention, and debasement of institutional authority, which intensified throughout his ever-evolving work. Yet, since his death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1989, his artistic legacy has proven to be similarly incalcitrant and resistant to clean-cut narrativization. In history, as in life, Smith’s oeuvre exists in renegade defiance of the capitalist imperatives of commodification and containment, as vilified in his philosophical fabulations of “lucky landlordism,” “rented island,” “art crust,” and “black light of false lighthouse capitalism.” In conjunction with the exhibition Jack Smith: Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis at Artists Space through September 9th, this program of films and previously unseen recorded performances includes Flaming Creatures, Normal Love, Scotch Tape, I Was A Male Yvonne de Carlo, and a newly discovered recording of Smith performing at the University of Colorado in 1980.
Co-presented with Artists Space, New York. Special thanks to Barbara Gladstone Gallery.
Organized by Kathrin Bentele, Stella Cilman, Jay Sanders, and Jamie Stevens.
Special Thanks: Isaac Alpert, Barbara Gladstone, J. Hoberman, Ed Leffingwell, Jerry Tartaglia
Explorations of an "Aesthetic of Delirium"
Scotch Tape (1959-62/3 mins/16mm)
Overstimulated (1959-53/6 mins/16mm)
Flaming Creatures (1962-63/42 mins/16mm)

Jack Smith produced films characterized by their hallucinatory, frenetic vision. In Scotch Tape, his cast dances across a landscape of industrial wreckage (the future site of Lincoln Center), while Eddie Duchin’s rhumba “Carinhoso” sounds in the background. Smith’s Overstimulated, a silent reel later used in his live lm performances, deliriously depicts actors Jerry Sims and Bob Fleischner frantically jumping up and down in a room filled with mysterious objects and debris. The program ends with Smith’s most notorious—and his last completed— film, Flaming Creatures, which was seized by the NYPD at the time of its debut and became the subject of a censorship battle over its lascivious content.

The Great Pasty Triumph
Normal Love (1963-64/105 mins/16mm)
Yellow Sequence (1963/20 mins/16mm)

Following the controversy over Flaming Creatures, Smith never completed another film. Shown in many versions and often edited live in his film performances, Normal Love is emblematic of Smith’s new approach to filmmaking. The film features many of Smith’s “creatures” including Mario Montez cast in the role of a mermaid and the Velvet Underground’s Angus MacLise as a mummy. Enacting his “pasty” fantasy of Atlantis through scenes of bacchanalian excess, Smith’s exotic creatures bathe in a pool of milk, cavort with a slithering cobra, and chase each other through the woods in Edenic pursuit. This program will also include the coda to Normal Love entitled Yellow Sequence, which features outtakes from the film.

Critical Americana

No President (1967-70/45 mins/16mm)
I Was a Male Yvonne de Carlo (1960s-70s/30 mins/16mm)
Song for Rent (1969/8 mins/16mm)
Jungle Island (aka Reefers of Technicolor Island) (1967/15 mins/16mm)

In response to the 1968 presidential campaign, Smith’s No President juxtaposes black and white found footage from Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential campaign with Smith’s costumed and masked creatures.I Was A Male Yvonne De Carlo features a scene inside Smith’s detritus-filled loft, where Warhol Superstar Ondine snaps glamour shots of a visibly bored Smith and an attendant nurse whips a crowd of zealous fans. In Song for Rent, Smith stars as the drunk and delirious matron Rose Courtyard (inspired by Rose Kennedy), who sits in a room filled with trash and decaying corpses while Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” plays in the background. Meanwhile Jungle Island (aka Reefers of Technicolor Island) captures Mario Montez in a psychedelic, pot-filled, tropical fantasy-land. Cloaked in glamour and excess, these films depict the sinister side of a distinctly American obsession with fame, wealth, and beauty in a detritus-ridden capitalist world.

Reconstructing Performance
Midnight at the Plaster Foundation of Atlantis (1970/17 mins/Digital)
Hamlet in the Rented World: A Fragment  (1970-3/27 mins/Digital)
Jack Smith in Cologne (1974/11 mins/Digital)
The Secret of Rented Island Excerpt (1977/1997/20 mins/Digital)
Putting Litter in the Pool (1977/10 mins/Digital)
Performance by Jack Smith (Midi Onodera/1984/1992/5 mins/16mm)

Midnight at the Plaster Foundation is the only known sound recording of a Jack Smith performance at his legendary loft-performance space in SoHo, the Plaster Foundation. Following Smith’s eviction, he cast himself in the role of Hamlet in his play and unfinished film Hamlet in the Rented World. Guided by the original scripts, filmmaker and preservationist Jerry Tartaglia reconstructs Smith’s play in a 27-minute assemblage. In a video created for the seminal 1997 retrospective at MoMA PS1 “Jack Smith: Flaming Creature: His Amazing Life and Times,” curator Ed Leffingwell meticulously pairs a sequence of slides of Smith’s performance of Ibsen’s Ghosts entitled The Secret of Rented Island with the prerecorded audio tape created by Smith as its soundtrack. Other short clips feature Smith preparing for a slideshow in Cologne, Germany, tossing Easter eggs into a pool in front of the Washington Monument, and performing “Brassieres of Uranus” at the Funnel Experimental Film Theater in Toronto, Canada.

Not Even Acting
Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs/1963/33 mins/16mm)
Little Stabs at Happiness (Jacobs/1963/15 mins/16mm)
Chumlum (Ron Rice/1964/26 mins/16mm)
The Whirled (aka The Four Shorts of Jack Smith) (Jacobs/1956-63/20 mins/16mm)

After meeting at the City College of New York, Jack Smith and Ken Jacobs began a period of intense collaboration, working together on a series of films that dramatize the relationship between actor and filmmaker, subject and camera, Hollywood and the avant-garde. Jacobs’ The Whirled is a series of four short films starring Jack Smith: Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice (1956), Little Cobra Dance (1956),Hunch Your Back (1963) and Death of P’Town (1961). Constructed from abandoned footage of Smith shot by Bob Fleishner, Blonde Cobra is a “light monster-movie comedy” that takes inspiration from the Hollywood flick Cobra Woman (1944), starring Smith’s muse Maria Montez. Little Stabs at Happiness  explores the affective possibilities of despair, dramatizing boredom and sexual rejection. Ron Rice’s hallucinatory Chumlum (1964) features Smith’s actors Mario Montez, Beverly Grant and Gerald Malanga and a soundtrack by Angus MacLise and Tony Conrad.

Chumlum restored by Anthology Film Archives and The Film Foundation with funding provided by The George Lucas Family Foundation. Special thanks to John Klacsmann.

Performance Premiere
Jack Smith at University of Colorado (October 27, 1980/100 mins/Digital)

Shot on a 3⁄4 inch open reel, this never-before-seen video documents a complete live performance by Jack Smith. Characteristic of the unique performance style Smith developed throughout the 1970s, he is seen on stage rearranging props, playing music, and occasionally addressing the audience before disappearing behind a curtain. Equally mesmerizing and frustrating, the footage captures a Smith performance in its typically unresolved, unpredictable, and improvisatory state.

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