Program 5: Blonde Cobra + Flaming Creatures
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Ken Jacobs, 1963, 35mm, 33m
Jack Smith, 1963, 16mm, 43m
Introduction from Ken Jacobs on July 30
Jonas Mekas, along with Ken and Flo Jacobs, was arrested for screening Flaming Creatures in 1964, and the obscenity case that followed would become a central episode of the New American Cinema. The film’s images, idiosyncratically framed and etherealized by the outdated stock they were shot on, feature the extravagantly costumed sybarites of the title as they dance, preen, and, most strikingly, take part in a pansexual mock orgy. “Flaming Creatures is that rare modern work of art: it is about joy and innocence,” wrote Susan Sontag. “To be sure, this joyousness, this innocence is composed out of themes which are—by ordinary standards—perverse, decadent, at the least highly theatrical and artificial. But this, I think, is precisely how the film comes by its beauty and its modernity.”
Assembled from audio of Smith that Jacobs recorded, and images drawn from two aborted film projects shot by Bob Fleischner, Blonde Cobra stands as one of the great documents of Smith as a performer. “It’s a look in on an exploding life,” said Jacobs, “on a man of imagination suffering pre-fashionable Lower East Side deprivation and consumed with American 1950s, ‘40s, ‘30s disgust. Silly, self-pitying, guilt-structured and yet triumphing—on one level—over the situation with style, because he’s unapologetically gifted, has a genius for courage, knows that a state of indignity can serve to show his character in sharpest relief. He carries on, states his presence for what it is. Does all he can to draw out our condemnation, testing our love for limits…enticing us into an absurd moral posture the better to dismiss us with a regal ‘screw-off.’”