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 Smith peopled his camp B-movie melodramas with friends, and often shot them on out-of-date film stock.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.
Everyone has seen the famous photos of Nico and Andy Warhol dressed as Batman and Robin, and Warhol’s silkscreen of the Batman logo, but evidently the writers for (arguably) the most “pop art” TV show in history were also very well aware of the Pope of Pop’s movements.
In an episode called “Pop Goes the Joker,” a rich society girl by the name of “Baby Jane Towser” is preyed upon by The Joker who has inadvertently become an acclaimed Warhol-esque pop artist after defacing some art ala Marcel Duchamp. “Baby Jane Towser” is duped to lure in millionaire patrons to buy the Jokers art.
Obvious to anyone at the time, the rich girl character was based on one-time fashion model, “It Girl,” Warhol superstar and wealthy young Park Avenue housewife, “Baby” Jane Holzer. Holzer was famously photographed by David Bailey, she made the cover of Vogue and appeared in a handful of Warhol’s early films, such as Couch, Soap Opera and a silent “screen test” where she coyly brushed her teeth for his camera.
“The show hasn’t even started yet, the Rolling Stones aren’t even on stage… Girls are reeling this way and that way in the aisle and through their huge black decal eyes… they keep staring at - her - Baby Jane - on the aisle… Baby Jane, is a fabulous girl. She comprehends what the Rolling Stones mean. Any columnist in New York could tell them who she is… a celebrity of New York’s new era of Wog Hip… Baby Jane Holzer, Jane Holzer in Vogue, Jane Holzer in Life, Jane Holzer in Andy Warhol’s underground movies, Jane Holzer at the rock and roll, Jane Holzer is - well, how can you put it into words? Jane Holzer is This Years Girl, at least, the New Celebrity, none of your old idea of sexpots, prima donnas, romantic tragediennes, she is the girl who knows… the Stones, East End vitality… ‘Andy calls everything super,’ says Jane. ‘I’m a super star, he’s a super-director, we make super epics - and I mean, it’s a completely new and natural way of acting.You can’t image what really beautiful things can happen!’”
Roxy Music later referenced Holzer in the the lyrics to “Virginia Plain” (“Baby Jane’s in Acapulco / We are flying down to Rio” and “Can’t you see that Holzer mane?”). She is today a real-estate developer in Manhattan and an avid and celebrated art collector.
Below, “Baby” Jane Holzer singing Frankie Valli’s “(You’re Gonna) Hurt Yourself,” March 28, 1966, on the Hullabaloo TV show. Apparently this record was never properly released. I suppose you could look at this the same way as Paris Hilton’s short-lived pop music career.
Part one of “Pop Goes the Joker” is below. The second half of this typical Batman cliff-hanger was “Flop Goes the Joker.”
One more Batman/Warhol/Holzer tie-in: In this excerpt from Batman/Dracula a long-thought lost collaboration between Andy Warhol and that icon of the perverse, Jack Smith, “Baby” Jane plays, one can assume, “Catwoman,” with Smith in the title role. This pre-dates the 1966 Batman TV series by two years.
Robert Conroy has the voice of an angel - an angel who’s lived a season in hell.
Conroy is one half of the exquisite pop duo, Misty Roses, whose beautiful and ethereal voice is married to the dramatic and mesmeric music of Jonny Perl. From when they first met, they understood each other. Call it synchronicity. Call it good taste.
Together they are Misty Roses - the most startlingly original and brilliant group of the past 5 years.
In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds, Misty Roses, Conroy and Perl, explain the who’s, what’s, why’s and wherefores of their music.
Robert: ‘I met Jonny in late 2002, when he was still living in Brooklyn. We had a mutual friend and, in passing, I mentioned to that mutual friend that I was obsessed with Scott Walker and Julie London. To which he said “There is only ONE other person ON EARTH who is obsessed with Scott Walker AND Julie London! That’s this English guy I know, Jonny Perl!” And I found out he was a musician, and I was intrigued - so I got Jonny’s number and I called him. We met soon afterwards, and we just realized very quickly that we were on very similar frequencies. I mean, after our first rehearsal - which was three hours long, maybe - I think we came away with working demos of three or four songs that ended up on our first LP. We understood each other - musically - from the get-go.’
Born and raised in NYC, Robert had performed with a range of bands “post-punk, goth, electronic” over the years, and says he “was lucky enough to have a front row seat for a lot what happened musically over last decade or two.” The range of experience only confirmed his talents and focused his ambitions.
Robert: First and foremost, I am a singer - I’ve trained with some serious vocal coaches, in my day. And I like a lot of different kinds of music. So if I dig the people and I dig how they write songs and they dig how I write songs, then I’m game.’
British born Jonny has always been musically gifted, as a child he learned to play the cello, piano, and saxophone. Before Misty Roses he had played in a variety of combos, and was playing with a surf band in NYC when the conversation about Julie London brought him to Robert.
Jonny: ‘The synergies between our musical interests seemed so strong that we both figured it was worth giving it a shot.’
Together, they create music that is the perfect fusion of cabaret and cinema, of torch song and widescreen. You are listening to the score for a dream by Kenneth Anger or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Douglas Sirk or David Lynch.
Robert: ‘We have been described as Lynchian - which we take as a great compliment. (And we did cover a David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti song on our disc Komodo Dragons - so it sort of fits, don’t it?) But we both love the way Mr. Lynch takes something seemingly innocuous and pretty - such as a song like “Sixteen Reasons” or “Blue Velvet” - and discovers all these inherently disturbing elements beneath its surface. I hope we create a similar kind of frisson with our best songs.
‘Musically, we are deeply influenced by non-rock popular music from the later half of the Twentieth Century. Soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone, John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith, exotica, bossa nova and tropicalia records, dub and a lot recordings of jazz and vocal standards - Ellington, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone and such like.
‘Likewise, the work of people we like to call “middle-of-the-road mavericks”- artists who were able to create music that was both very accessible and deeply idiosyncratic and more than a little odd. People like Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg, Bacharach and David, Dionne Warwick, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Jimmy Webb, Bobbie Gentry, etc. And these influences get filtered further through the “rock” music we like, which is primarily the “artier” end of the spectrum. Stuff like the Velvet Underground and its alumni, Bowie, Roxy Music, Sparks, Joy Division, The Banshees, The Associates, Soft Cell, The Smiths, The Pet Shop Boys, Suede, Broadcast, Goldfrapp, etc.
‘Jonny described our sound as “glamorous easy listening music” initially. I loved that. Jonny and I are really attracted to glamorous sounds. We love orchestrations - strings sections, and french horns and flutes. We dig those gleaming, cold textures of synthesizers from the 1970’s.
All the things that you’re supposed to reject if you’re into music that is “true” and “real”. We dig artifice.’
Jonny: ‘Yes - we had pretty much all these things in common as interests from the start. I will never shake off the Smiths/Postcard/C86 influences I had when I started to play guitar, but there has always been cross-fertilization - from playing in orchestras and ensembles to collecting old easy listening, Latin and Brazilian records.’
Robert: ‘And our music tends to drift into the shadows, as it were. Traditionally - until the last century, really - “glamour” was an occult term. Its a synonym for “spell”. One casts a glamour. And that connection to magic also suggests a sense of mystery - I think. Nothing can be truly glamorous without an element of darkness or strangeness. All my favorite music has some eerie, even creepy, aspect. And I find a lot of classic horror and science fictions films - like Forbidden Planet or Suspiria or The Bride of Frankenstein - wildly glamorous. Star Trek and Space: 1999 likewise.’
Their first performance as Misty Roses took place in an old East Village Buddhist tea house. Jonny played guitar and backing tracks, while Robert “channeled Dusty Springfield”. For both, it was a moment of magic, and the promise of greater things seemed almost within reach. Almost….
”Starry Wisdom” from ‘Villainess’ by Misty Roses
More from the fabulous Misty Roses, plus bonus tracks, after the jump…