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In Focus: Jack Smith
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Thu 14 & Thu 21 September 2023
   Two people in floral clothing stand in a field of sunflowers, blue sky, pulling a net through the air
Normal Love, dir. Jack Smith, USA 1963

‘I want to be uncommercial film personified.’
– Jack Smith

Jack Smith (1932 – 1989) was an American actor, photographer and filmmaker and one of the most important figures in the early days of performance art, experimental and queer cinema. Working in New York in the 1960s, Smith was one of, if not the first, proponents of kitsch, camp and trash aesthetics. In spite of the impact his films have had on subsequent filmmakers – John Waters, Derek Jarman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder have all cited him as an influence – much of his work remains widely unknown, due in part to his refusal to finish any films after his first feature Flaming Creatures was banned for obscenity.

Using discarded film stock, live scoring films, often casting first time performers and appropriating the Hollywood B-Movie, Smith’s innovative films are a celebration of DIY. Whilst many of Smith’s films are famous for their explicit content, they are as immediate and beautiful as they are outrageous – aesthetically generous, always prioritising the visual over narrative. This hypervisual aspect of his filmmaking is something writer Susan Sontag touches on in her essay in defence of Flaming Creatures: ‘At every moment there is simply a tremendous amount to see on screen.’

This two-part programme is a combination of features, including cult film Flaming Creatures, alongside lesser known shorts in both black and white and colour. All films will be shown on 16mm. Both Flaming Creatures and Normal Love feature scores produced by Tony Conrad.

In black and white, a person with long blonde curly hair holds a flower down towards their nose

Thu 14 September, 8:45pm
Banned upon its release, Jack Smith’s mesmerising carnivalesque celebration of the beauty of DIY filmmaking is presented alongside two rarely screened shorts.

A person with red lipstick, huge pearl necklace and white bodysuit bathes in an opaque white liquid

Thu 21 September, 8:30pm
Normal Love + Yellow Sequence
Defiantly unfinished and constantly in flux, Jack Smith’s film-meets-performance screens on 16mm alongside its short film coda.