Filmmaker and artist Jack Smith described his own film as a “comedy set in a haunted movie studio.” Flaming Creatures begins humorously enough with several men and women, mostly of indeterminate gender, vamping it up in front of the camera and participating in a mock advertisement for an indelible, heart-shaped brand of lipstick. However, things take a dark, nightmarish turn when a transvestite chases, catches and begins molesting a woman. Soon, all of the titular “creatures” participate in a (mostly clothed) orgy that causes a massive earthquake. After the creatures are killed in the resulting chaos, a vampire dressed like an old Hollywood starlet rises from her coffin to resurrect the dead. All ends happily enough when the now undead creatures dance with each other, even though another orgy and earthquake loom over the end title card.
Flaming Creatures was initially screened for just friends and artists, but its eventual public screenings caused a major uproar thanks to its display of exposed male and female sexual organs. A NY criminal court declared the film obscene. One of the film’s earliest champions was curator Jonas Mekas, who publicly screened the film and got arrested for doing so. However, Smith felt Mekas was out to promote himself more than he was trying to promote the film. Feeling exploited over the entire experience, Smith would never complete another film in his lifetime. —Mike Everleth
Jack Smith was raised in Texas and, after making his first film Buzzards over Baghdad (1952), moved to New York in 1953.
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… read more
This film should be in any respectful canon, what a mesmerizing comic and sexual mess, oh yeah !
Its a unique aesthetic sensibility: artifice as innocence and film as visuality. The interesting thing for me is that the *carefully* mythopoeic (thus anything but innocent, with a design on ideology) structure of extinction-in-rape & rebirth-in-masturbation of the flaming creatures is put in service of a 'carefree' erotic joy. But, I have to admit its hard to express my thoughts simply on this alien sensibility.
Also: A great roundup on Ivan Zulueta and a good long chat with Francis Ford Coppola.