Jack Smith was a visionary performance artist and underground filmmaker who produced and directed a series of no-budget films during the 1950s and 1960s, the most famous being Flaming Creatures and Normal Love both from 1963. Smith peopled his camp B-movie melodramas with friends, and often shot them on out-of-date film stock. As a filmmaker he seemed often careless about the fate of his movies, but their success and influence was far greater than the size of the audience that saw them. John Waters hailed Smith as “the only true underground filmmaker.” Susan Sontag described the controversial and allegedly pornographic Flaming Creatures as “a rare modern work of art; about joy and innocence.” While Andy Warhol said Smith was the only filmmaker he would steal from.
Smith was also a photographer whose beautiful prints have rarely been seen outside of a gallery exhibition. Many of his images capture moments from his films, or portraits of the cast and friends. They vary from the haunting and dreamlike to the comically irreverent—yet all are fabulously beautiful.
It used to be that screenings of Jack Smith’s films were raided by New York’s vice squad and they were all but impossible to see for many years. Not anymore. To demonstrate just how far the culture war goalposts have moved since the early 1960s, what was once considered utterly depraved is now on YouTube getting piped right into your home or handset.
Below, the longer edit of Smith’s Normal Love: