Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coming soon: Mr. Smith goes to Roxaboxen

Posted By on 01.11.12 at 02:30 PM

Flaming Creatures (1963)
  • Flaming Creatures (1963)
Michael W. Phillips is going all out for Friday night’s South Side Projections event, hosted by Pilsen’s Roxaboxen Exhibitions. The night kicks off at 7:00 PM with a screening of Jack Smith’s avant-garde masterpiece Flaming Creatures (1963), followed by What’s Underground About Marshmallows?, a filmed performance of a Smith play by local filmmaker Jill Godmilow (whose 1976 documentary The Popovich Brothers of South Chicago was the subject of a recent long review). Afterwards, Godmilow will be present to discuss Smith’s artistic legacy and her collaborations with the actor Ron Vawter, who stars in the Marshmallows movie. As if that weren’t enough, the evening will conclude with a set from some other underground legends, the great Chicago band ONO.

Smith's outsized creative persona (which director Ken Jacobs also documented in his films Little Stabs at Happiness and Star Spangled to Death) suggested an ever-erupting id, emboldened by the art-making process to express every impulse that came into his head. This spirit may be best represented by the extended orgy sequence of Flaming Creatures, a pansexual dream so unbound by social taboos that it seems innocent rather than perverse. Nonetheless, the film caused a scandal when it was first premiered—as Phillips notes on the South Side Projections website, Jonas Mekas (a great avant-garde filmmaker in his own right) was briefly imprisoned for screening it.

It would be unjust to reduce the film to its sexual content, as Smith’s fantasies encompassed a lot more than sexuality. Flaming Creatures is also a glorious portrait of cinephilia: Smith described the film as a tribute to B-movie actress Maria Montez (whose 1944 vehicle Cobra Woman influenced yet another major avant-garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger) and the bric-a-brac that fills many of the frames suggests a home-movie remake of a 30s Hollywood spectacle. This would explain the film’s lasting influence on Guy Maddin, whose old-movie pastiches convey a similar transformation of mass entertainment into private dream.

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