May 2011, arsenal cinema

LIVE FILM! JACK SMITH! Five Flaming Days in a Rented World

Jack Smith (©Helmut Herbst)

From Oct. 28 through Nov. 11, we will present the event "LIVE FILM! JACK SMITH! Five Flaming Days in a Rented World", our first major cooperation with HAU/Hebbel am Ufer. With performances, films and videos, slide presentations, exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and discussions, we look at the gender-bending and genre-breaking works of Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and other avant-garde artists of the 1960s, from a number of angles. The work of Jack Smith is juxtaposed with recent works of numerous international contemporary artists. A special guest is the legendary drag performer and underground superstar Mario Montez, who on this occasion will appear in public for the first time in thirty years.

Jack Smith was born in Ohio in 1932 and moved to New York in the 1950s, where he became an important proponent of "New American Cinema". Smith's movies reveal an unusual low-budget beauty and are characterized by aesthetic innovations, which were immediately highly acclaimed by critics. Yet their open treatment of sexuality was also a target of censorship. In 1964 the film FLAMING CREATURES (1963) caused one of the greatest scandals in the history of film: It was banned. Soon afterwards, Smith began using film no longer independently but as a component of performances. His Midnight Performances often started as late as 2 a.m. and lasted several hours. In many of his LIVE FILM performances, Smith completely reedited the film material, integrating excerpts, slides, text, and music, something which posed a great challenge for Jerry Tartaglia, who later restored the films.

Well-known images recur in Smith's movies that are reminiscent of the exotic atmosphere in his favorites (Busby Berkeley musicals, Josef-von-Sternberg films and the films of his muse, Maria Montez). Smith's first film, SCOTCH TAPE (1959–62), was named after the tape that remained attached to the celluloid. THE YELLOW SEQUENCE (NORMAL LOVE ADDENDUM REEL) (1963) consists of shots of the future cult entertainer Tiny Tim and the drag performer Francis Francine. Allegedly conceived as part of NORMAL LOVE, this dazzling sequence is what remains of the reconstructed version of the film. NORMAL LOVE (1963, Oct. 28 & 30) is the title of the film that Smith had conceived as the "commercial" successor of FLAMING CREATURES. According to Smith's records, the work was to consist of six sequences, partially inspired by a mermaid played by Mario Montez. The highlight is the famous "Cake Scene" – an ensemble of half-naked chorus beauties, including Andy Warhol, twines about a gigantic, white and pink colored pyramid cake. RESPECTABLE CREATURES (1950s/1966) shows an early attempt at cinematically rendering Smith's adoration of Maria Montez. OVERSTIMULATED (1959–63) depicts him and filmmaker Bob Fleischner jumping around in front of the TV. The origin of the color movie JUNGLE ISLAND/REEFERS OF TECHNICOLOR ISLAND (1967) still remains unclear. What is certain is that the film premiered as part of Smith's presentation "Horror and Fantasy at Midnight" at the New Cinema Playhouse on 42nd Street in 1967. In SONG FOR RENT (1968/69), we see Smith in drag as Rose Courtyard, who sits in a wheelchair while listening to Kate Smith's hymn "God Bless America". NO PRESIDENT (1967–70) resulted from a Midnight Performance from 1967. The reconstructed version is a hybrid of found footage and imaginative sequences shot in Smith's studio with Mario Montez, Irving Rosenthal, Tally Brown, and others. I WAS A MALE YVONNE DE CARLO (1970) stems from a series of films and slide shows in which Smith stages himself as a mock celebrity and expresses self-disgust and the permanent fear of being exploited as travesty by the culture industry. HOT AIR SPECIALISTS (1970s) shows Smith in drag during an unsuccessful rendezvous with an unknown person. The super 8 film SINBAD OF BAGDAD (1978) documents a performance on the "exotic" beach on Coney Island, New York.

Smith's bohemian film and art scene soon became a model for Andy Warhol's Factory, where Smith, Mario Montez and writer Ronald Tavel belonged to the first superstars. Smith's aesthetics influenced a generation of theater makers and troupes (Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman, Charles Ludlam, Living Theater, Wooster Group), as well as a younger generation of artists in the 1970s and 80s, including Laurie Anderson, Penny Arcade, John Zorn, or the filmmakers Nick Zedd and Ela Troyano. Only after his collaboration with Smith did Tony Conrad begin composing. During several stays in Germany in the 1970s, Smith worked with filmmakers Wilhelm and Birgit Hein and the artist Katharina Sieverding, among others. Smith's oeuvre is at all times situated at the interface between fashion, photography, performance, theater, music, film, and fine art. Thanks to his innovative representation of bodies, gender and sexuality, Smith's work is still of great importance in the context of gender studies.

After Smith's death as a result of AIDS in 1989, Jim Hoberman and Penny Arcade founded the "Plaster Foundation", which commissioned Jerry Tartaglia to restore his films. In view of the fact that Arsenal has been screening Smith’s films for years, Tartaglia decided to give the copies to the institute. How can one deal with this cinematic heritage that is inseparably connected to the live performances of the deceased artist? In March 2009, a team of curators (Susanne Sachsse, Marc Siegel, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus) invited more than 50 international artists and scholars to Berlin, to jointly view and discuss the movies. They developed new films, texts and performances that will now be presented live to the audience together with Smith's complete works.

The short films and videos by Tim Blue, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Werner Hirsch & Jakob Lena Knebl, Marie Losier, Guy Maddin, Ulrike Ottinger, Evelyn Rüsseler, and Isabell Spengler, as well as a full-length film by Christophe Chemin and a film performance by Oliver Husain will be presented individually and then remain in the program of arsenal distribution.

Karola Gramann (Kinothek Asta Nielsen) and film scholar Heide Schlüpmann, who are planning a follow-up project in Frankfurt, will present two programs in response to Jack Smith's films (Oct. 31). The first is about diva associations and consists of films by Carmine Gallone, Ron Rice, Jack Smith, and Frans Zwartjes (1916–1968). The second program presents BAND OF ANGELS (Raoul Walsh, USA 1957) with Yvonne de Carlo. When a plantation owner in New Orleans dies shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, his daughter learns that her mother was a black woman. She is bought by a repentant slave trader (Clark Gable). The scenery of the Confederate States becomes the exotic site of erotic passions vacillating between aggression and devotion. As a more dazzling example of the screen presence of Smith's muse, we will screen COBRA WOMAN (Robert Siodmak, USA 1944, Oct. 31), in which Maria Montez appears in a double role. COBRA WOMAN is a South Seas melodrama shot in an exotic (studio) setting and in Technicolor – dealing with archaic rituals and a long past story of twin sisters. In honor of Mario Montez, we will screen three Warhol films: MARIO BANANA with Montez and a banana; SCREEN TEST #2 (script/off-screen voice by Ronald Tavel), in which he poses for 67 minutes (1964/65, Oct. 30, HAU 1); CAMP (1965, Oct. 29), in which he sings a song and Jack Smith forces Warhol to move his camera in a dramatic way. Other actors include Gerard Malanga, Paul Swan, Jane Holzer, and Tally Brown.

The filmmaker Ken Jacobs got to know Smith through Bob Fleischner, when all three were studying camera at the CUNY Night School. Fleischner and Smith both died in 1989 within just a week. Jacobs' film TWO WRENCHING DEPARTURES (2006, Oct. 30 & 31) is his reaction to the deaths of his two friends. In BLONDE COBRA (1963, Nov. 1), Jacobs edits what remained of Fleischer's uncompleted "Lower East Side Monster Comedy" revolving around a performance by Smith. In addition, we will screen Jacobs' LITTLE STABS AT HAPPINESS (1959–62), a further collaboration with Smith, as well as a more recent work by Jacobs, THE WHIRLED (with old material of Smith), and talk with the filmmaker about Skype.

In October 1984, a Jack Smith performance was staged in the experimental movie theater Funnel in Toronto. In 1992 Midi Onodera made a film out of the recordings, which we will show in conjunction with a further performance recording from the Plaster Foundation and discuss with Smith's fellow travelers (Oct. 29).

Jill Godmilow's film ROY COHN/JACK SMITH, (USA 1994, Oct. 30 & 31) is based on one of the most important theater events of the 1990s in New York and Berlin: Ron Vawter plays the role of two opposite characters who only had two things in common: Both were homosexual, both died from AIDS. Godmilow's film, depicting the New York performance, was dedicated to Alf Bold, the director of Arsenal at the time: Ron Vawter said that, until his death, Bold succeeded in newly defining the film program. Shortly before both died that same year, Alf Bold attended a performance at Hebbel-Theater.

At this very same venue, Hebbel-Theater, HAU 1, we will honor Warhol's scriptwriter Ronald Tavel, who after a first meeting in Berlin died unexpectedly in March, with a staging of his play THE LIFE OF JUANITA CASTRO cast with stars. Participants include Rainald Goetz, Mario Montez, Bruce LaBruce, Katharina Sieverding, Diedrich Diederichsen, Susanne Sachsse, and others. (Oct. 30)

At HAU 1 we will also present concerts by Kinky Justice (Oct. 30) and Phantom/Ghost (Oct. 31), and at HAU 2, in cooperation with Galerie Daniel Buchholz, a "Minimalist Retro-Exotica Happening Event" by Tony Conrad with Gordon W. (Oct. 29). Klaus Walter retraces a pop tradition from Smith to Antony and the Johnsons (Oct. 31). Additionally at HAU 1 (Oct. 30 & 31): live performances by Penny Arcade, Nao Bustamante, Beatrice Cordua, Vaginal Davis, and Andrew Kerton; music by Professor €ric D. Clark and an installation by Christophe Chemin .

In addition to the film programs, Arsenal will present slide shows by Uzi Parnes & Ela Troyano, a super 8 Performance by Theatre of 8 (Chloe Griffin & Gwenaël Rattke), the super 8 film work by Ursula Pürrer and Hans Scheirl, exhibitions of Wilhelm Hein, John Edward Heys, Michael Krebber, Klaus Mettig, Uzi Parnes, Kristian Petersen, Jerry Tartaglia & Sean Kirk, and performance videos by Deirdre Logue.

At both venues, lectures and discussions will be held by and with Bini Adamczak, Callie Angell, Tony Conrad, Douglas Crimp, Diedrich Diedrichsen, Jennifer Doyle, Dominic Johnson, Petra Korink, Thomas Meinecke, Mario Montez, José Muñoz, Tim Stüttgen, Juan Suárez, Jerry Tartaglia, Chris Tedjasukmana, José Teunissen, as well as all participants.

From Oct. 10 through Nov. 1, Exile Gallery will present the exhibition "Jack Smith, Cologne 1974" with photographs by Gwenn Thomas and a film by Birgit Hein. On Nov. 1, a discussion on Jack Smith in Germany will be held here.

Galerie Daniel Buchholz presents the show: "Tony Conrad – Re-Framing Creatures" (opening on Oct. 29).

"LIVE FILM! JACK SMITH!" is curated by Susanne Sachsse, Marc Siegel, and Stefanie Schulte Strathaus. Funded by Hauptstadtkulturfonds. Special thanks to Jerry Tartaglia.