Sunday Cinema: Jack Smith's "Normal Love"


The radical departure of life through art; it is what an audience must submit to while viewing a film by Jack Smith, especially his 1963 masterpiece "Normal Love". Before there was Fellini or Warhol, there was Jack Smith working out of his Hyperbole Photo Studio in the West Village, radically stepping outside of the McCarthy mess that was the 1950's. Oh yes, the McCarthy era: a period in which, to put it mildly, artistic tendencies of questioning the world around us were wholly rejected and looked upon with utter suspicion thanks to the practice of basing "disloyalty" on social criticism. Out of these post-WWII moments of social conformity, Smith came at the heart and soul of sweeping conservatism and banality with the most unbelievably lavish, erotic and fantastic displays of sensuality, love and the performative joys of life. 

I also love Jack Smith because he made Andy Warhol look like a fool (as his predecessor, it's only natural, but still). I loves me some Warhol, but he couldn't have done anything without Jack Smith's influence.

 According to Judith Jerome's book on Smith's life and work, Normal Love had been screened on and off  in its birth year of 1963, but it was only made available to the public once again after being reassembled in 1997. That's thirty years of it being relatively out of public sight, thanks to rising social expulsion and mistrust of "the other" in his films. It was his first color film, following his other 1963 film Flaming Creatures, which, although shot in black & white, has these intense performative moments that are so much like a Freudian head case that the scenes and "creatures" on the screen hit your brain in some frequency of metaphorical color. Normal Love is a more "commercial" follow-up from the orgies and scenes of nudity that would make audiences faint when Creatures was first shown. The increasing climate of censorship, as Jerome described it, pushed Smith to create these incredible scenes of lavish, colorful party-goers, dressed in satin and glittering makeup and headdresses. You have Mario Montez in a bathing cap and pearls, swimming in a milky liquid, you have Alice in Wonderland-meets-Ali Baba-meets-Weinmar-era Cabaret; everything presented in this film makes no goddamn sense and yet all the sense in the world as you just give in to the viewing pleasure of visual syrupy candy.

Jack Smith has had a profound effect on the way in which I try to see the world through art. It's been said that Smith would walk down the street in New York City and rearrange the trash on the curb to make it more aesthetically pleasing, and that sort of stuff just gives me goosebumps from how profound the sense of potential for beauty he had was. It's something I've tried to always emulate in the way I dress, in the way I perform my life and the way I try to give a double take towards things I don't fully understand. I like to think that life should be felt at all costs, especially the ugly and horrible shit, and Jack Smith is definitely a hero of mine for laying down the foundation for filming all the glitter, filth and beauty the world has to offer.


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