Jack Smith (film director)

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Jack Smith
Born November 14, 1932(1932-11-14)
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Died September 16, 1989
New York, U.S.
Field film, photography, performance art
Works Flaming Creatures (1963)
Influenced Andy Warhol, Federico Fellini, John Waters, David Lynch, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Mike Kelley, Nan Goldin, Robert Wilson, Lee Breuer, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, John Cale, David Byrne, John Zorn,
pop art, punk rock

Jack Smith (14 November 1932 in Columbus, Ohio - 25 September 1989 in New York City) was an American filmmaker, actor, and pioneer of underground cinema. He is generally acclaimed as a founding father of American performance art, and has been critically recognized as a master photographer, though his photographic works are rare and remain largely unknown.


[edit] Biography

Jack Smith was raised in Texas and, after making his first film Buzzards over Baghdad (1952), moved to New York in 1953.[1]

Smith was one of the first proponents of the aesthetics which came to be known as 'camp' and 'trash', using no-budget means of production (e.g. using discarded color reversal film stock) to create a visual cosmos heavily influenced by Hollywood kitsch, orientalism and with Flaming Creatures created drag culture as it is currently known. Smith was heavily involved with John Vaccaro, founder of The Playhouse of The Ridiculous, whose disregard for conventional theater practice deeply influenced Smith's ideas about performance art. In turn Vaccaro was deeply influenced by Smith's aesthetics. It was Vaccaro who introduced Smith to glitter and in 1966 and 1967 Smith created costumes for Vaccaro's Playhouse of The Ridiculous. Smith's style influenced the film work of Andy Warhol as well as the early work of John Waters, and while all three were part of the 1960s gay arts movement, it is certain that both Vaccaro and Smith refuted the idea that their sexual orientation was responsible for their art.[2]

Smith has also been referenced by artists such as Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelley, filmmakers David Lynch and Matthew Barney, photographer Nan Goldin, musicians John Zorn, Lou Reed and David Byrne, and theatre director Robert Wilson. Theater legend Richard Foreman writes, 'Jack Smith is the hidden source of practically everything that's of any interest in the so-called experimental theatre today.'

The most famous (and arguably the most notorious) of Smith's productions is Flaming Creatures (1962). The film is basically a travesty on Hollywood B movies and tribute to actress Maria Montez, who starred in many such productions. However, authorities considered some scenes to be pornographic. Copies of the movie were confiscated at the premiere and it was subsequently banned (technically, it still is to this day). Despite not being viewable, the movie gained some notoriety when footage was screened during Congressional hearings and right-wing politician Strom Thurmond mentioned it in anti-porn speeches.

Smith's next movie Normal Love was the only work in Smith's oeuvre with an almost conventional length (120 mins.), and featured a whole host of underground stars, including Mario Montez, Diane di Prima, Tiny Tim, Francis Francine, Beverley Grant, John Vaccaro, and others. The rest of his productions consists mainly of short movies, many of them never to be screened in a cinema, but to feature in performances and constantly re-edited to fit the stage needs (including Normal Love).

Apart from his own work Smith has also worked as an actor himself. He played the lead in Andy Warhol's unfinished film Batman Dracula, Ken Jacobs's Blonde Cobra, and appeared in several theater productions by Robert Wilson.

He also worked as a photographer and founded the Hyperbole Photographic Studio in New York. In 1962 he released The Beautiful Book, a collection of pictures of New York artists, which has recently been re-released by Granary Books.

After his last film, No President (1967), Smith created performance and experimental theatre work until his death on September 25, 1989 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

In 1989, at Jack Smith's specific request, New York performance artist and former Warhol superstar Penny Arcade undertook to salvage his work from the rubble of Mr Smith's apartment after Smith's long bout with AIDS and subsequent death, attempting to preserve the apartment that he had transformed into an elaborate stage set for his never to be fiilmed epic "Sinbad In a Rented World" as a museum dedicated to Jack Smith and his work, which was foiled in part by the greed for cheap east Village apartments that leaked Smith's death to his landlords . Until recently, Smith's archive was co-managed by Arcade, alongside the film historian J. Hoberman via their corporation The Plaster Foundation Inc. Within ten years of Smith's death, the Foundation, operating largely without funding but thru donations and good will, was able to restore all of Smith's films, create a major retrospective curated by Edward Leffingwell[1] at PS 1, the Contemporary Arts museum now part of MOMA, put his films back into international distribution and publish several books on Jack Smith and his work.

In January 2004, the New York Surrogate Court ordered Hoberman and Arcade to return Smith's archive to his legal heir, estranged surviving sister Sue Slater. Hoberman and Arcade fought to dismiss Slater's claim, arguing that she abandoned Jack's apartment and its contents; the Plaster Foundation created the archive and took possession of the work only after 14 years of repeated, documented attempts at communication with her. In a six-minute trial, Judge Eve Preminger rejected the Foundation's argument and awarded the archive to Slater.

By October 2006, the Foundation had still refused to surrender Smith's archive to the estate, claiming money owed them for expenses associated with managing the archive--and hoping Smith's work would be bought by an appropriate public institution that could safeguard his legacy and keep the works in the public eye. According to curator Jerry Tartaglia, the dispute was finally resolved as of 2008, with the purchase of Smith's estate by the Gladstone Gallery.

[edit] Quotes about Smith

  • "Jack oozed his aesthetic. And you either knew exactly what Jack wanted or you weren't interested in that scene. Andy [Warhol] picked up that you don't really have to direct people. You have to get them into the sense of what you are doing." Billy Name[7]

[edit] Selected filmography

By Jack Smith
  • 1952 Buzzards over Baghdad [1]
  • 1961 Scotch Tape
  • 1963 Flaming Creatures (b/w, 46 min.)
  • 1963 Normal Love (120 min.)
  • 1967 No President (a/k/a The Kidnapping of Wendell Wilkie by The Love Bandit, ca. 50 min.)
With Jack Smith as actor
About Jack Smith

[edit] Jack Robert Smith

Jack lives in Birmingham England with his mother and sister Danielle. He loves Amber Elizabeth Moore and Tilly Rose Moore.

[edit] Books

  • By Jack Smith:
    • 1960 16 Immortal Photos
    • 1962 The Beautiful Book (dead language press, republished 2001 Granary Books)
  • About Jack Smith
    • Leffingwell/Kismaric/Heiferman (eds.), Flaming Creature: Jack Smith, His Amazing Life and Times, London: Serpent's Tail, 1997
    • J. Hoberman, On Jack Smith's 'Flaming Creatures' (And Other Secret-Flix of Cinemaroc), New York: Granary Books, 2001
    • J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (eds.), Wait For Me At The Bottom Of The Pool: The Writings Of Jack Smith, New York and London: High Risk Books and PS1, 1997

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d e "Film Examines Art-World Provocateur" By David Ebony, Art in America, May '07, p.47. Retrieved 2-3-09. Includes photos of Smith in pre-production for Flaming Creatures and in Shadows in the City.
  2. ^ Jones, Sonya L. (1998), Gay and Lesbian Literature Since World War II: History and Memory, Haworth Press, p. 18, ISBN 078900349X 
  3. ^ Jordan, Mary. Interview with George Kuchar. Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  4. ^ Jordan, Mary. Interview with Laurie Anderson. Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  5. ^ Jordan, Mary. Interview with John Waters. Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  6. ^ Jordan, Mary. Interview with John Zorn. Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  7. ^ Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, Steve Watson, Pantheon Books (2003)
  8. ^ "Antony Finds His Voice" by John Hodgman, The New York Times Magazine, September 4, 2005. Retrieved 2-3-09.

[edit] External links

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