Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reading Response #5

1. Chapter 4: What are some of the reasons suggested for Smith’s obsession with Maria Montez? What are some of your responses to the clips from the Montez films (especially Cobra Woman)?

The general consensus of those interviewed seems to be that Jack Smith was enamoured by Maria Montez’s presence; she was a diva, an exaggerated form of femininity lavished onscreen, akin to the drag queens Smith would film. In the clips shown, I find Maria Montez’s performance to be quite campy and stilted, and the Cobra Woman costume to be the height of outlandish—right up Jack Smith’s alley.

2. Chapter 5: What were some attributes of the New York art community in the 1960s, and what was the relationship between the economics of the time and the materials that Smith incorporated into his work and films? [How could Smith survive and make art if he was so poor in the city?]

According to those interviewed who were a part of the 1960s New York art community, it was a close-knit group, where everybody knew everyone else. In spite of the notoriously high prices of today’s NYC, parts of Manhattan in the 1960s were terribly affordable [apartments in Tribeca and the Village for only $20-$40 a MONTH!] Many props and accoutrements utilized in Jack Smith’s films could be found in department store dumpsters, free for the taking, and Jack Smith loved trash.

3. Chapter 6: What problems emerged after the obscenity charges against Flaming Creatures in the relationship between Jack Smith and Jonas Mekas? What metaphor emerged from the conflict between Smith and Mekas?

Jonas Mekas championed the cause against censorship following the charges, making Flaming Creatures a poster-child-film[?] to advance his career as the most famous underground film distributor in the US. Jack Smith saw Mekas as an opportunist who didn’t give credit [or monetary royalties] to the filmmakers whose films he screened. Smith also felt Mekas’s cause sucked all the life and beauty from his film. Ultimately, Mekas was called a “lobster” by Smith, symbolizing a scavenger who takes what he needs to profit off a situation.

5. Chapter 8: What are some arguments about the relationship between Jack Smith’s artistic practice and Andy Warhol’s artistic practice?

Warhol himself says that Jack Smith is “the only person I would ever copy,” and this is evident in the structure of Warhol’s Factory, Screen Tests, and his ‘borrowing’ of Smith’s regular actors, including Mario Montez. Jack Smith appeared in several of Warhol’s films, including Camp, as well. Robert Heide describes Warhol as detached and separate from his art, while Jack Smith was always in the midst of what he created. Others say Warhol was creating something ‘hip’ to be consumed, while Smith really didn’t care if anyone outside himself loved his films—he was building his dream world.

6. Chapter 9 & 10: In what ways did Jack Smith become “uncommercial film personified”? What is meant by the slogan “no more masterpieces” and how did Smith resist commodification (or the production of art products)?

Jack Smith decided to never truly ‘finish’ a film, to protect it from being banned [like Flaming Creatures was.] He traveled with prints of his films at showings, and would edit the films live as well as choose the records to play at that moment, subject to change upon his whim. Jack Smith wanted to transform life into art, instead of creating an ‘artistic commodity’ to be consumed by the spectators. A ‘masterpiece’ in this light is unappealing: it connotes an entirely finished product, something definitive and in many cases easily mass-reproduced. He was strongly anti-capitalism and this showed through in his life and work. In the 70s, he held free performance art shows in his loft, and even if no one showed up, Smith would perform as to a packed house. In this case, here was no product or concrete item to be declared “this is a work of art” but instead his life and its ethereality became his art.

7. Name at least three important friends/relationships Barbara Rubin had in the world of art and music in the early 1960s.

Barbara Rubin was friends with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (she even wished to marry him for a time), worked closely with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, particularly in the Up-Tight series, and she was Jonas Mekas’s close assistant at the Film-Maker’s Co-Op.

8. Briefly describe Rubin’s production and exhibition practices for Christmas on Earth. Why does Belasco argue that Christmas on Earth cannot be reproduced electronically or in other forms?

Rubin shot Christmas On Earth over a single weekend on a 16mm Bolex camera borrowed from Jonas Mekas, with five friends taking part in an orgy. After the quick shooting, she spent three months editing the film on whim. She created two separate reels, one to be projected at about a third its original size, overlapping the other, full-size, reel. During exhibitions, Rubin would sometimes project one reel upside down or show them in succession, or superimposed on another film. Filters colourised her black and white films, which would be randomly changed by the projectionists. She also specified that the film was to be played silent, with the accompaniment of a loud rock radio station, whatever happens to be on the air at that moment. Belasco argues that the film cannot be reproduced properly because of its unique dual-projection format as well as the use of live radio and colour filters over the film; only a single showing of it could ever be recorded, and each time it would be different, akin to videotaping a piece of live performance, like dance.

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