Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2006)

Dir: Mary Jordan
Arts Alliance DVD

Puppies and personal problems have detained me from pontificating about moving pictures, but now I will attempt to get back on track and thank you for your patience. This is a fascinating documentary about a man, Jack Smith, that should be considered an important part of the counter culture in New York in the early sixties. Through his own self destructive nature he has been able to barely hold on as a foot note in this important era of avante garde artists that changed the landscape of the art world forever. If he is remembered for anything now, it is his experimental film Flaming Creatures. A sort of fever dream of sexual taboos mixed with Hollywood melodrama. Writer and fellow filmmaker Jonas Mikas took it upon himself to champion the film and made sure it was seen in as many places as possible. This made Smith angry and claimed his film was stolen from him but Mikas, and others, claim that he never saw any money from it’s exhibition. Smith’s next film, Normal Love (1963) was never actually completed so that it could not be stolen. Smith would show the film but would edit it live and change the music so that no definitive piece existed. In itself this is a fascinating concept but takes on different meaning when you take into consideration why it was shown this way. A few years later Andy Warhol would latch onto some of Smith’s ideas and use them to propel himself into art super stardom. This didn't help Smith's perception of the world and he seemed to fall further from accessibility as an artist which is, on one hand, a shame but on the other makes him far more interesting than his peers. It's certainly not an uplifting story but definitely one worth knowing. The film is made with a no apologies approach that Smith is a genius that was treated poorly by those around him, but even a little research would suggest that that is only half the story. That doesn't take away from the fact that Smith's films and his photography are pretty incredible works of art.


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