New York Magazine


Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis
  Release Date: 04/11/07 (Future Release)

Starring: Jack Smith, Nayland Blake, Ira Cohen, Tony Conrad, Richard Foreman

Director: Mary Jordan

Rating: (NR)
  Running Time
  96 min
  Film Forum
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The late Jack Smith dreamed up a different brand of underground cinema: transgressive, non-narrative, exotically and flamingly pansexual—the kinds of films that on the Deuce could get a projectionist lynched. The subject of Mary Jordan's entrancing documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis applied the adjectives flaming and exotic to his work in the sixties and seventies. But the figure that emerges here is joyless—a slender man who hung back warily, a glowerer given to incantatory monologues of loss. If Quentin Tarantino's imagination flowered in the hothouse of the grindhouse, Smith found his Atlantis—his lost continent—in costume epics starring Maria Montez, a terrible actress but a radiant icon for a motherless gay adolescent. Andy Warhol admitted to borrowing much of Smith's aesthetic (represented in Smith's legendary Flaming Creatures)—but Warhol denuded it of emotion and commodified it. Smith, despite his lifelong poverty, refused to finish another feature, preferring to screen his works-in-progress (sometimes editing them before his audience's eyes) and staging all-night pageants in his East Village apartment.

In Jordan's documentary you see the roots of camp as distinctly melancholy and yearning, a world of the spirit that can never be made flesh. In subsequent years, it has been travestied and cheapened, overdosed with irony, made—at its most sparkling—an occasion for Wildean epigrams. But watch the fragments here of Flaming Creatures and Normal Love and you'll never laugh so freely again. It's Jordan's feat to make a linear, talking-heads documentary (among the heads are Jonas Mekas, Robert Wilson, John Waters, Nick Zedd, and John Zorn) that still manages to evoke something of Smith's floating, ravishingly colorful dreamscapes—a menagerie of creatures that, even as they're captured on film, are already fading into the air. —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine