Jack Smith (film director)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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, best known for his 1963 film Flaming Creatures.



Smith was one of the first exponents of the aesthetics which came to be known as Camp and Trash, using cheap and spartan means of production (e.g. using discarded color reversal film stock) to create a visual cosmos heavily influenced by Hollywood kitsch, orientalism and drag culture. His style influenced the film work of Andy Warhol as well as the early work of John Waters. Smith has also been referenced by artists such as Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelley, photographer Nan Goldin, musicians Lou Reed and David Byrne, and theatre director Robert Wilson. Theatre 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 (1963). 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 (80 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, and appeared in several theatre 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.

Until recently, Smith's archive was co-managed by New York performance artist and former Warhol superstar Penny Arcade, alongside the film historian J. Hoberman via their corporation The Plaster Foundation Inc. In January 2004, the New York Surrogate Court ordered Hoberman and Arcade to return Smith's archive to Smith's legal heir, his surviving sister Sue Slater, after hearing Hoberman et al.'s unsuccessful arguments that the Plaster Foundation should own Smith's work. As of October 2006, Hoberman et al. had yet to surrender Smith's archive.

Quotes about Smith

  • "Jack oozed his aesthetic. And you either knew exactly what Jack wanted or you weren't interested in that scene. Andy [Warhol] picked up that you don't really have to direct people. You have to get them into the sense of what you are doing." Billy Name

Selected Filmography

  • 1961 Scotch Tape
  • 1962-3 Flaming Creatures (b/w, 46 min.)
  • 1964 Normal Love (80 min.)
  • 1968 No President (a/k/a The Kidnapping of Wendell Wilkie by The Love Bandit, ca. 50 min.)


  • By Jack Smith:
    • 1962 The Beautiful Book (dead language press, republished 2001 Granary Books)
  • About Jack Smith
    • Leffingwell/Kismaric/Heiferman (eds.), Flaming Creature: Jack Smith, His Amazing Life and Times, London: Serpent's Tail, 1997
    • J. Hoberman, On Jack Smith's 'Flaming Creatures' (And Other Secret-Flix of Cinemaroc), New York: Granary Books, 2001
    • J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (eds.), Wait For Me At The Bottom Of The Pool: The Writings Of Jack Smith, New York and London: High Risk Books and PS1, 1997

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jack Smith (film director)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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