When considering certain filmmakers whose work I haven’t gotten around to seeing, I always think of Andrew Sarris’s phrase in The American Cinema, “Subjects for Further Research.” In this case, I note that this week I got my first dose of the work of an American underground legend when I was given the assignment to review the excellent documentary by Mary Jordan entitled Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, which has come out on DVD from Arts Alliance America. I’m a massive fan of the Kuchar Bros. (especially the greatest complainer in the history of video art, Mr. George Kuchar) and their fan John Waters, but I confess to being a Smith-less film lover.
Jordan’s documentary offers a superb introduction to Smith’s work and his artistic allure (as well as his unrepentant eccentricities). Included in the documentary are interviews with a host of Sixties downtown types, including big George K. himself, Judith Malina, Mary Woronov, John Zorn, Richard Foreman, Tony Conrad, Ronald Tavel, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, and John Waters (oh, and the further-researcher himself… Andrew Sarris!). Their comments on Smith and life in the Village film/theater scene are fascinating, but what I was particularly taken with (besides Jack’s all-consuming loathing of his landlords… yay, man!) were the scenes from Smith’s films, which have the layered beauty and costumed elegance of Kenneth Anger, with the playful satires of Hollywood (on no budget) of the Kuchar Bros. The trailer for Jordan’s docu:
In an earlier entry in this blog I presented YouTube and Ubuweb links to the works of George Kuchar, so herewith I present the only Smith film available on YT. Of course, you must keep in mind that what Jordan’s film reveals is that Smith made a practice of not finalizing any of his movies after his landmark Flaming Creatures (1963). This is an earlier item, Scotch Tape, which evidently showed up on the Sundance Channel at some point:
As a bonus, here’s a link to an “underground movie flip book” by Smith that can be found on Ubuweb.
Since there is so little Jack Smith work available on the Web, and because I am utterly obsessed with one-hit wonders, here’s a link to the amazing, and completely unrelated, Whistlin’ Jack Smith’s 1967 chronically hook-driven “I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman.” I would make a very strong bet that you ain’t getting this tune outta your cranium once you hear it:
UPDATE (9/8): Just this past weekend Anthology showed Flaming Creatures, so I finally was witness to the crazed genius of Jack S. Much has been said about the picture, and it remains (esp. in these tight-assed times) a work that is confrontational, by turns kinetic and reflective, ugly and beautiful, profound and extremely silly. And you still couldn't air the thing on any cable channel save Sundance (who slip in some exceptionally "challenging" images every now again, as with Pink Flamingos and The Purified).