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Jack Smith, 1932-1989

American experimental filmmaker, visual artist, writer, actor
"What all {smith's} movies have in common are Jack Smith, wild and perverse sexuality, prankish improvisation, costumes related to all previous elements, and camera work loose as a goose" -- Ken Kelman, p.4; quoted in Dyer, p. 145.
astrology chart, profile, links

Capricorn Ascendant, Scorpio Sun, Gemini Moon, Venus Boomerang

Jack Smith's astro-chart

ASTRODATA: 14 November 1932, 11:05 (11:05AM) EST (5hW), Columbus, Ohio, USA. Sy Scholfield quotes data from birth certificate in hand. RR: AA. DIED: 18 September 1989, 06:25?, NYC (Penny Arcade, p. ?).
FEATURES. PERSONALIZED PLANETS: Aries URANUS (semi-square Moon; quincunx Sun), Cancer PLUTO (semi-square Moon; trine & dispositing Scorpio Sun), Virgo NEPTUNE & JUPITER (conjunct South Node), Libra VENUS (conjunct Midheaven). PATTERNS: CARDINAL GRAND CROSS (Pluto opposite Saturn, both square Uranus), FIXED GRAND CROSS (Sun opposite Chiron, both square Mars), MUTABLE GRAND CROSS (Mercury opposite Moon, both square Neptune), CARDINAL GRAND CROSS (Venus opposite Uranus, both square Pluto), YOD (Jupiter sextile Sun, both quincunx Uranus), BOOMERANG (Yod plus Venus). SHAPE: SPLASHY. CHINESE SIGN: WATER MONKEY. NUMEROLOGY: "22" LIFEPATH.

Jack Smith (14 November 1932 in Columbus, Ohio - 25 September 1989 in New York City) was an American filmmaker, actor, and pioneer of underground cinema. He is generally acclaimed as a founding father of American Performance Art, and has been critically recognized as a master photographer, though his photographic works are rare and remain generally unknown.

Jack 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 theatre practice deeply influenced Smith's ideas about performance art. In turn Vaccaro was deeply influenced by Smith's aestheics. 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 of them were part of the 1960s Gay Arts Movement, it is certain that both Vaccaro and Smith refuted the idea that their sexual orientation was responsible for their art work.[1]

Smith has also been referenced by artists such as Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelley, filmmakers David Lynch and Matthew Barney, photographer Nan Goldin, musicians John Zorn, Lou Reed and David Byrne, and theatre director Robert Wilson. Theater legend Richard Foreman writes that 'Jack Smith is the hidden source of practically everything that's of any interest in the so-called experimental theatre today.'

The most famous (and arguably the most notorious) of Smith's productions is Flaming Creatures (1962). The movie is basically a travesty on Hollywood B movies and tribute to actress Maria Montez, who starred in many such productions. However, authorities considered some scenes to be pornographic, copies of the movie were confiscated at the premiere and it was subsequently banned (technically, it still is to this day). Despite not being viewable, the movie gained some notoriety when footage was screened during Congressional hearings and right-wing politician Strom Thurmond mentioned it in anti-porn speeches.

Smith's next movie Normal Love was the only work in Smith's oeuvre with an almost conventional length (120 mins.), and featured a whole host of underground stars, including Mario Montez, Diane di Prima, Tiny Tim, Francis Francine, Beverley Grant, John Vaccaro, and others. The rest of his productions consists mainly of short movies, many of them never to be screened in a cinema, but to feature in performances and constantly re-edited to fit the stage needs (including Normal Love).

Apart from his own work Smith has also worked as an actor himself. He played the lead in Andy Warhol's unfinished film Batman Dracula, Ken Jacobs' Blonde Cobra, and appeared in several theater productions by Robert Wilson.

He also worked as a photographer and founded the Hyperbole Photographic Studio in New York. In 1962 he released The Beautiful Book, a collection of pictures of New York artists, which has recently been re-released by Granary Books.

After his last film, No President (1967), Smith created performance and experimental theatre work until his death on September 25, 1989 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

In 1989, at Jack Smith's specific request, New York performance artist and former Warhol superstar Penny Arcade undertook to salvage his work from the rubble of Mr Smith's apartment after Smith's long bout with AIDS and subsequent death, attempting to preserve the apartment that he had transformed into an elaborate stage set for his never to be fiilmed epic "Sinbad In a Rented World" as a museum dedicated to Jack Smith and his work, which was foiled in part by the greed for cheap east Village apartments that leaked Smith's death to his landlords . Until recently, Smith's archive was co-managed by Penny Arcade performance artists and former Warhol star), alongside the film historian J. Hoberman via their corporation The Plaster Foundation Inc. Within ten years of Smith's death , The Plaster Foundation operating largely without funding, but thru donations and good will , was able to restore all of Smith's films, created a major retrospective at PS1 , the Contemporarey Arts museum now part of MOMA, put his films back into international distribution and published several books on Jack Smith and his work.

In January 2004, the New York Surrogate Court ordered Hoberman and Arcade to return Smith's archive to his legal heir, estranged surviving sister Sue Slater. Hoberman and Arcade fought to dismiss Slater's claim, arguing that she abandoned Jack's apartment and its contents; the Plaster Foundation created the archive and took possession of the work only after 14 years of repeated, documented attempts at communication with her. In a six-minute trial, Judge Eve Preminger rejected the Foundation's argument and awarded the archive to Slater.

By October 2006, the Foundation had still refused to surrender Smith's archive to the estate, claiming money owed them for expenses associated with managing the archive--and hoping Smith's work would be bought by an appropriate public institution that could safeguard his legacy and keep the works in the public eye. According to curator Jerry Tartaglia, the dispute was finally resolved as of 2008, with the purchase of Smith's estate by the Gladstone Gallery.

....[read more at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]


Arcade, Penny. "The Last Days and Moments of Jack Smith: Legendary Filmmaker, Theatrical Genius and Exotic Art Consultant." [site now defunct?]

Dyer, Richard, and Julianne Pidduck. Now You See it: Studies in Lesbian and Gay Film . Routledge, 2003: 145+

Kelman, Ken. 'Smith Myth'. In P. Adams Sitney (ed.), Film Culture 29 (1963): 4-6.

Morris, Gary. "Raging and Flaming: Jack Smith in Retrospect" Bright Lights Film Journal, Issue 29, July 2000.

Clapson, Nick. "Preserving a Harlequin."

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Sweet Outrage" (reviews of Scotch Tape & Flaming Creatures), Chicago Reader, 1998.

Sontag, Susan. "Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures," in her Against Interpretation, 1966.

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Sy Scholfield