Flaming Creatures: Jack Smith, Barbara Rubin and the Cinematic Orgiastic, program 1
UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program, and Los Angeles Filmforum present:
Flaming Creatures: Jack Smith, Barbara Rubin and the Cinematic Orgiastic
Saturday July 15, 2023, 7:30 pm - Blonde Cobra / Flaming Creatures
At the UCLA Film & Television Archive Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum
On April 29, 1963, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1962) had its theatrical premiere on a double bill with Ken Jacobs’ Blonde Cobra (1963) as part of Jonas Mekas’ screening series at the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York. The screening would prove to be a milestone in both the development of the American avant-garde and the cause of artistic freedom. The editor of Film Culture magazine and maestro of the New York underground film scene, Mekas celebrated the films’ complete liberation from preconceived notions of cinematic quality, rational meaning and binary sexuality: “These are a few examples of … a free, unforced, spontaneous, liberating, newborn poetry … Their imagination, coming from deeply ‘deranged’ or, more truly, rearranged & liberated senses, is boundless.”
In December that year, Mekas set out to honor Smith’s work with a reprise midnight screening of Flaming Creatures at the Tivoli Theater at which Smith would be presented with Film Culture’s annual Independent Film Award. Before the show could begin, New York City’s Bureau of Licenses shut it down, prompting a spontaneous takeover of the theater led by another young filmmaker, Barbara Rubin. Inspired by Creatures, Rubin made her own debut work in 1963, Christmas on Earth, that took Smith’s orgiastic camp to even more explicit heights (the 18-year-old filmmaker’s original title was Cocks and Cunts). In 1964, Mekas and Ken Jacobs were convicted of showing obscene material and received suspended sentences but the proverbial cat was out of the bag. While Smith came to resent the critical straightjacket that the censorship debate imposed on his work, Flaming Creatures’ captivating combination of threadbare opulence and boisterous gender fluidity opened wholly new and radical forms of cinematic expression. This program marks the 60th anniversary of that original double bill followed by an evening of works inspired by Flaming Creatures in which images and bodies slide over one another in a tumult of freedom and feeling.
Admission is free. No advance reservations. Your seat will be assigned to you when you pick up your ticket at the box office. Seats are assigned on a first come, first served basis. The box office opens one hour before the event.
U.S., 1963, 16mm, color, 37 min. Director: Ken Jacobs. With: Ken Jacobs, Jack Smith.
After production collapsed on Jack Smith and filmmaker Bob Fleischner’s plans to make a “light monster-movie comedy,” Fleischner shared the resulting footage with Ken Jacobs (Little Stabs of Happiness), who added a bit of his own, recorded new music and a voiceover with Smith. As film historian Paul Arthur has describes it, Smith and Fleischner’s footage plays as a “burlesque rendering of [Robert] Siodmak’s Cobra Woman,” but in Jacobs’ anarchic reassembly Blonde Cobra “resists our every effort at connection or expectation, yet, implausibly draw[s] us into a lush world of dark liberties.”
U.S., 1962, 16mm, b&w, 43 min. Director: Jack Smith. Screenwriter: Jack Smith. With: Francis Francine, Sheila Bick, Joel Markman.
Over a blaring processional from the soundtrack of Arthur Lubin’s Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) and a parade of androgynous “creatures” slinking past the camera, we hear, whispered like an incantation, “Today, Ali Baba comes!” And so filmmaker and performance artist Jack Smith inaugurates his pleasure dome, a delirious, harrowing, spellbinding confluence of B-movies, drag queens, flaccid penises, nipples and miles and miles of shimmering fabric. As baroque as Josef von Sternberg, scrappier than a Poverty Row quickie, Flaming Creatures demolishes the lines between high and low, male and female, order and chaos. As film critic J. Hoberman observed: “Had Jack Smith produced nothing other than this amazing artifact, he would still rank among the great visionaries of American film.”