Underground Cinema at Eyedrum
by Felicia Feaster
published in Creative Loafing
August 30, 2006
Jack Smith was a '60s underground legend. Before he was 30, this gay, Jewish, cross-dressing filmmaker had made one of the most influential films of all time, the 1963 avant-garde classic, Flaming Creatures.
Though eventually banned in the state of New York for its array of bare breasts and flaccid penises, many bright lights of the New York underground hailed it as a masterpiece.
Purportedly made for just $300, Flaming Creatures features exotically dressed transvestites, a rape and enough bare-bones spectacle to make it the fringe cinema's answer to the exotic adventures like Arabian Nights (1942) that so enchanted Smith in his youth.
Avant-garde film enthusiast Andy Ditzler, who almost single-handedly has been keeping film culture alive in Atlanta, will man his blessedly creaky film projector to feature a 16mm print of Flaming Creatures in a one-night homage to some of the pioneers of American underground cinema, Carnivals of Ecstasy, at Eyedrum Gallery. The screening is part of the five-day Table of the Elements Festival.
The event is hosted by another important '60s figure, Tony Conrad, the musical director for Flaming Creatures. Conrad had a hand in some capacity in every film appearing in Carnivals of Ecstasy, either contributing his musical talents or appearing onscreen.
Viewers also can get a taste of Smith's unique onscreen charisma in 1964's Chumlum, which was made by another Smith collaborator, Ron Rice. Rice shot Smith and his dolled-up, spaced-out cast on breaks from Smith's never-completed project, Normal Love.
Featuring a musical score by Velvet Underground original drummer Angus MacLise, the film is a kaleidoscopic wonder of superimposed imagery in which Smith and a coterie of fellow freaks vamp in campy ecstasy, exhibiting the kind of excess and charisma that made Smith and his creatures legends.
Also appearing on the Carnivals of Ecstasy bill are Piero Heliczer's (who appears in drag in Flaming Creatures) 1967 Joan of Arc, Ira Cohen's 1967 Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda and the world premiere of a new work, Brain Damage.
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