Jack SMITH

(1932-1989)
Nationality: american

THE FILMS OF JACK SMITH


Gladstone Gallery is pleased to announce the inaugural collection of the films of Jack Smith. The edition of eleven films comprises the definitive version of Smith’s work on 16mm. This includes his three feature length films Flaming Creatures, Normal Love, and No President, as well as the eight shorter works: Jungle Island, Respectable Creatures, I Was A Male Yvonne DeCarlo, Song For Rent, Hot Air Specialists, Overstimulated, Scotch Tape, and Yellow Sequence. For the first time since the death of the artist in 1989, the films have been restored, printed and are presented together in a complete set on 16mm film.

Gladstone Gallery acquired Jack Smith’s estate and archive with the intent to preserve the artist’s legacy while broadening the exposure of his pioneering work. The collected films of Jack Smith, which along with the artist’s complete body of work, represent one of the most seminal and important oeuvres in twentieth century art. The eleven films are part of the artist’s panoptic production, which includes photographs, collages, drawings, slide shows, and objets trouvés such as costumes, sculptures and props that were used in Smith’s live film performances. With this full range of material to consider, the film edition attempts to represent as thoroughly as possible Jack Smith’s vision as a filmmaker. The eleven films exist as a significant testament to the public revelation and future exhibitions of what has been considered, until now, an underground phenomenon from an occult star.

Born in Ohio and arriving in New York in 1953, Smith transformed the detritus of post-war downtown New York into a tableaux vivant of exotic glamour and polysexual fantasy. In 1957 he opened the Hyperbole Photography Studio in which he photographed customers/models in compositions that were equal parts Rococo and Hollywood. Working on a shoe-string budget, Smith created an orgy of fantasy that transcended the all-too-pat bounds of camp and revolutionized American film. Upon seeing Flaming Creatures, Jonas Mekas dubbed it the “most luxurious outpouring of imagination, of imagery, of poetry, of movie artistry.”

A key figure in the cultural history of Downtown New York film, performance, and art, Jack Smith began producing work in the late 1950s and became one of the most accomplished and influential artists throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Smith’s method of weaving his life as a performance varied across media and glorified his exploits and adventures through the urban landscape wherein he developed an exuberant and visually stunning vision of the world from the glittering debris of the city, transforming downtown New York into a stage for his forays into photography and film. After a period of about eight years (1961-1969) in which Smith showed the films in their completed forms in conventional film screening settings, he began to incorporate the films and his slides into live performances that he himself named “Live Film.” He created startling stage effects through the spontaneous rearrangement and interplay of recorded imagery on film and slides, along with live action on a "stage," editing and re-editing the film images in the midst of the performance. This spontaneous editing, however, required a unique form of splicing in which he assembled strands of camera original as well as printed material with masking tape. Thus, Smith managed to create a unique version of the films for each performance. Unlike his contemporaries in the underground film scene, Smith looked to Hollywood for his aesthetic models. In his writings he extolled the early Technicolor achievements of B-actress Maria Montez. Smith’s insubordinate aesthetics within the art scene were mirrored in his progressive politics: Smith formulated theories of popular socialistic thinking that he sought to enact in his work and life. Communal to the point of a celebratory chaos, the idea of the involuntary gesture, usually caused by a technical breakdown in his filmmaking, was melded to his theory of Art-as-Trash to create some of the most visually striking filmic episodes in American cinema.
Although in Jack Smith’s lifetime he was much less celebrated than the many people he inspired, Smith's multi-media influence is evident in the works of a broad segment of contemporary American art. In film, his influence is apparent in the work of his contemporaries, from Andy Warhol, Ken Jacobs, Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman, and the Kuchar brothers, to contemporary artists such as Guy Maddin, Ryan Trecartin, and John Waters. Smith collaborated with a range of visual artists, frequently with Claus Oldenburg and Carolee Schneemann who created props for Smith’s films sets, which in turn inspired those artists toward new aesthetic trajectories within their own work. In avant-garde theater and performance art, Smith’s influence reaches Robert Wilson, Charles Ludlam, John Vaccaro, Cindy Sherman, John Bock and Richard Foreman.

As an innovative and unprecedented artist who rejected so much of his era, from the conservative political climate of an America at war with Vietnam, to the trends of Abstract Expressionism in New York art, to the repression of queer expression and the abstention of the pornographic in high art, Jack Smith, nonetheless, was absolutely and indulgently inclusive. In his art as in his life, Smith transfused styles, mediums, materials, and particularly bodies, in a transcendently new way that defined and still defines counter-culture. As a revolutionary thinker and artist, his revolutions are as culturally pertinent and aesthetically impressive today as they were in his lifetime. The films of Jack Smith provide a rare and magical view into the history, and perhaps even the future, of the American avant-garde.

The Films of Jack Smith

In his filmmaking, Smith sought to create an aesthetic of delirium. Through his use of outdated film stock and baroque subject matter, he pushed the limits of cinema, liberating it from the formality of "good" technique and "proper" behavior. In his best-known film, Flaming Creatures (1963), characters cavort in a setting reminiscent of the court of Ali Baba. The film is a fantasy composed of Androgynes and Transvestites, who are ambiguously equated as to disarm any distinction between male and female. In Flaming Creatures, Smith manages to combine the ornate imagination of his youth with the realities of adult fantasy. The sensual polyamory of the film was used by authorities for their repressive policing of what the government considered to be pornographic at the time. Copies of Flaming Creatures were confiscated at the premiere and it was subsequently banned. Despite not being viewable, the movie gained notoriety when footage was screened during Congressional hearings, and the right-wing politician Strom Thurmond cited it frequently in his anti-porn speeches. The controversy affected Smith deeply and all his later films were purposefully composed as incomplete, open, and “live” in order to subvert the control of authority, in all its forms.

Smith's second feature length film, Normal Love (1963-65) is something of a sequel.  Unlike the black and white Flaming Creatures, it is shot in rich color, at outdoor locations including the swamplands of Northern New Jersey and suggests the archetypal gardens of the human imagination. The characters include a variety of 1930s horror film monsters, a mermaid, a lecher, and various "curies" performed by a cast which included Mario Montez, Tiny Tim, Eliot Cukor, Tony Conrad, Diane di Prima, Beverly Grant, and John Vaccaro. In the last scene, one can spot Andy Warhol in the corner of the frame photographing the action as several sublime characters dance on an enormous multi-tiered Claes Oldenburg cake sculpture. In this exemplary scene, one can sense an underground geneology and early community of the New York art scene: from a masterful Jack Smith, to the studious Warhol, and the transforming Oldenburg. The next “feature” film created was No President (1968), originally titled The Kidnapping of Wendell Willkie by the Love Bandit, in reaction to the 1968 Presidential campaign. It mixes black-and-white footage of Smith's creatures, with old campaign footage of Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican Presidential candidate. In addition to No President,

Smith produced numerous short films and fragments of short films. Some of these include Overstimulated (c.1960), I Was A Male Yvonne DeCarlo (1970s), Scotch Tape (c. 1962), Wino (c.1977), Hamlet (c.1970). Buzzards Over Baghdad (c. 1951), Respectable Creatures, and others.


About the Audio

In his “Live Film” performances, Smith relied upon his extensive, eclectic collection of LP and 78rpm recordings. Smith would set up his own record player in the performance space and change records throughout the production. Oftentimes, he would allow the records to wobble, skip, jump, or remain stuck in order to achieve a desired effect. With the exception of Flaming Creatures and Scotch Tape, all of the accompanying audio in this edition is provided on digitally preserved CDs that maintain the anomalies that can be heard on Smith’s LP records.

Preservation by Gladstone Gallery

Gladstone Gallery has been archiving and preserving the Estate of Jack Smith since 2008. The original film materials have been preserved and stored in climate-controlled conditions in anticipation of the printing of this special edition. Using the internegatives that were created from Smith’s own camera originals, the color correction and exposure timing of these new film prints maintains the original visual aesthetic experience that Smith projected in his live screenings. Through extensive research and discussion with collaborators and scholars of the artist, as well as guidance from film historians and restorationists, this edition adheres as strictly as possible to Smith’s vision as a filmmaker.

11 MOVIES IN DISTRIBUTION

HOT AIR SPECIALISTS
1980 / 16mm / color / sound / single screen / 7' 00 / 50 €
distribution: 16mm
I WAS A MALE YVONNE DECARLO
1970 / 16mm / b&w / sound / single screen / 28' 00 / 112 €
distribution: 16mm
NO PRESIDENT
1967-1970 / 16mm / b&w / sound / single screen / 45' 00 / 180 €
distribution: 16mm
SONG FOR RENT
1969 / 16mm / color / sound / single screen / 5' 00 / 40 €
distribution: 16mm
JUNGLE ISLAND
1967 / 16mm / color / sound / single screen / 20' 00 / 80 €
distribution: 16mm
RESPECTABLE CREATURES
1950-1966 / 16mm / color / sound / single screen / 24' 00 / 96 €
distribution: 16mm
NORMAL LOVE
1963-1965 / color / sound / single screen / 120' 00 / 360 €
distribution: 16mm
YELLOW SEQUENCE
1963-1965 / 16mm / color / sound / single screen / 15' 00 / 80 €
distribution: 16mm
FLAMING CREATURES
1962-1963 / b&w / sound / single screen / 43' 00 / 164 €
distribution: 16mm
OVERSTIMULATED
1959-1963 / 16mm / b&w / silent / single screen / 5' 00 / 40 €
distribution: 16mm
SCOTCH TAPE
1959-1962 / 16mm / color / sound / single screen / 3' 00 / 30 €
distribution: 16mm