As part of the city’s bicentennial celebration, the Wexner Center has dug up a large handful of films with Central Ohio connections for the series “Cinema 614.” While the presence of the capital city in mainstream movies is fairly limited, Columbus can lay claim as the birthplace of the late Jack Smith, a film and performance artist who helped form the foundation of America’s underground art movement in the 1960s.
Lionized by John Waters and cited as “the only person I would ever copy” by Andy Warhol (and Warhol did just that in his own films), Smith grew up on a diet of Hollywood Technicolor melodramas. He would later alchemize their overblown emotions and repressed sensuality into film and performance works that pulsed with strangeness and playful eroticism.
“Flaming Creatures,” the 1963 feature that opens the “614” program Thursday night along with a selection of Smith’s shorts, is a full-frontal Bacchanalian smorgasbord that helped establish drag culture as we know it. In its nearly 50-year lifespan, it’s been banned in 22 states and four countries.
On Tuesday, June 12, the Wex will screen Smith’s follow-up, “Normal Love,” a cinematic shrine to classic screen siren Maria Montez (represented by the drag queen Mario Montez). The final Smith-centered program on Tuesday, June 19, offers four shorts and his last feature, the absurdist pseudo-political piece “No President.”
Because Smith’s films aren’t available for home viewing, the Wex series presents a rare opportunity to view the work of this homegrown pioneer. But as curator Dave Filipi notes in the series program, he’d like to see Smith’s local presence spread a little wider.
He writes, “If we can muster a statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of Vet’s Memorial, shouldn’t we be able to erect some sort of spinning, flashing, pulsating tribute to the father of American performance art? Talk about a tourist attraction.”
Photo courtesy of Film-Makers’ Cooperative