Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures" - a liveblog review

Here is my Avant-Garde blog post in which I live-blog every stupid thought that pops into my head while I attempt to sit through "Flaming Creatures" (1962) by Jack Smith (1932-1989), courtesy of (UBUWEB).

DISCLAIMER: This is an experimental art film that deals with adult subjects, NSFW!

Credits: Nothing says "experimental film" like the title card for the movie being a piece of paper drawn on in ball-point pen and tacked to the pegboard. Titles are depressing; I can't read them, the film print quality is terrible, the music is dramatic '30s canned orchestra that's all blurred and warbled and distorted until it's practically dubstep, and they go on forever.

Then there was a few minutes of a very pretty opera and a few people in formal wear standing around not doing much of anything, but they all seemed rather pleased to see each other.

It has now been about 10 minutes of women (and the occasional man) putting on lipstick. That's all, just one set of lips after another in your face, greasing the lips, moving lips, puckering lips, sucking lips, piles of women laying around on the floor idly putting lipstick on, another close-up and suddenly A PENIS IS ON HER SHOULDER and then its gone and more lipstick application, and more and more and more and then A PENIS IS WIGGLING and then another set of lips, etc.

Somebody with dirty feet is sitting wriggling their foot at the camera. Background music, as close as I can identify, is the Japanese version of Hee-Haw.

A bunch of women run back and forth in front of the camera, as if loping after a cab. By the way, I'm making assumptions about gender all the way through. Drag queens - I was told I'd be seeing some - are hard enough to identify in person even without seeing them in grainy black-and-white on a shaky camera.

A man has now caught one of the women and is dragging her to the ground. Another man joins then and the woman is flailing and struggling while he sniffs her armpit. The Japanese music is now growing on me. Now another guy and this appears to be a gang-rape in progress, woman screaming, clothes torn off, boob flapping around. This was what life was like before 911. Suddenly the action is interrupted by a rumbling, wobbling hanging lamp. More rumbling, camera shaking, random shapes, focus on the tree in the vase on the set but this isn't the tree's doing.

Now a whole pile of people, multiple males and females, screaming bloody murder while they all apparently rape each other right through their clothes and the earthquake or whatever it is. It's been ten minutes now of screaming, screaming, screaming, flailing, jerking, THE TREE IS STILL DOING NOTHING, rumbling, rape orgy, screaming like a busload of baboons being burned alive, more screaming, more shaking lamp. Guy wiggling tongue at the bottom of a foot, camera has been thrown into a blender now. I miss the music. I even look back nostalgically on the lipstick part.

How this movie got in trouble for obscenity I can't tell. Except for about one minute total of floppy penis and thirty seconds of jiggling boob, I can't even make out identifiable body parts anymore. Just shaking and flailing and screaming. It's like trying to concentrate on your cell phone while strapped into a car that is currently tumbling down the steepest wall of the Grand Canyon.

IT STOPPED! THE SHAKING AND SCREAMING STOPPED! The pile of people is so relieved and happy. So am I. Maybe that was supposed to be a representation of what it's like to be a sperm during an ejaculation. A dizzy women with a boob hanging out of her dress... oh forget it.

Things are heating back up again. The camera has gotten agitated again while the music suggests that now it's a pile of violins somewhere that's screaming bloody murder. Leaves fall on the body pile. Scene ends.

We are back to The Tree. I guess it's a cherry blossom tree or a bonsai marshmallow tree or something, in an ornate vase, lovingly framed in close-up. The Tree is the most likable part of the movie so far. A fly lands on the vase. What does the fly want? What does it think of this film? As I understand it, this fly would have to be dead by now. Does the fly live on forever in IMDB's omniscient database? Did the fly participate in the screaming? Did the fly ever imagine, in its wildest fly dreams, that it would be preserved on film for all eternity?

Sudden jarring music and a dramatic wooden box. The box is opening and apparently it's some kind of drag queen undead coming at us. The person emerges from the box and grasps flowers - the camera is still just randomly everywhere as if they strapped it to a hyperactive toddler and just let him go. The music is now a very enjoyable English folk tune I don't recognize. The undead drag queen is now apparently feasting on the corpses from the formerly-screaming orgy pile.

Wait! I get it! Sexual attraction = lipstick, sex = screaming orgy, conception = happy moment, gestation = tree with vase, birth = opening box! Ha! Take that, avant-garde, I understood you for once.

Confirmed drag queen: undead is now lying on back with dress up, flopping flaccid penis around. Might have been the same penis all along. Dude, your penis is a shitty actor. If your penis is going to be in a movie, the least you could do is have it stand up. I mean, if my penis was going to be in a movie, I'd be giving it a big pep talk and rehearsing with it for months. I'd make it get up every morning at 5AM and do pushups. I'd put a lot of pressure on it to make me proud.

Drag queen dancing a merry little waltz in front of that center-framed, prominent tree. I'm starting to hate that tree now. Everything else in this movie gets savaged and destroyed, and that bastard tree just sits there smugly. I hope somebody kicks it over. Now several people dancing in front of the tree (right, this must be drag queen's childhood after being born from the box, and now it's in school playing with friends - the metaphor still holds!). Count the props so far: tree, lamp, box. the dancers are all in mismatched costumes doing mismatched dances not in time to the music. One guy is dancing like he needs to pee. Knowing this movie, he probably does.

Suddenly the music changed to stock bullfighter music and a female figure in black is salsa-ing about. Armpit. Hairy armpit, camera close-up of hairy armpit, what does IT MEAN??? Shot from overhead. The dancing is frantic now, like those nature documentaries of what goes on in a beehive. About ten minutes of all kinds of dancing now. I'm beginning to expect another lipstick thing, and then the Circle Of Life is complete, The End.

The female figure (ha! I may not know its gender, but I know it's dressed as a woman! tricky tricky) in black keeps spinning around with a rose in its teeth. The crowd dancing now is almost moshing, they're rudely slamming into each other. Suddenly there's a languid woman lying there with somebody's finger on her tit, not moving, just buzzing the doorbell. I told you; the lipstick's coming out any minute now.

Woman smoking something and somebody who looks like the guy from "The Room" ("You're tearing me apart Lisa!") kissing on her. I almost miss the screaming now. No, I'm kidding. Please don't scream and shake for another twenty minutes. Now the music is cool doo-wop! It's like a '50s teen pop version of "Yessir, That's My Baby!" or whateveritis, I recognize it.

The lamp is shaking again, I remember that from before. The dancing is now mellow. Subtly, the words "The End" pan by, written in cake frosting or what, I can't tell with the film quality. Who knows, maybe my earlier interpretation of the meaning of this movie was full of shit. One last loving ogle at somebody apathetically playing with their tit, and fade to grainy, linty black.

Well, that wasn't so bad. I've seen "Blood-Sucking Freaks", you know. Also, at least it didn't have Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, or Nicolas Cage in it.

The thing that sucks about this kind of exercise is that it's impossible to write about it and not make it sound like more fun than it was. Really, even at its best points, it wasn't what I would call a date movie or even a fun night with the guys movie. The peek-a-boo nudity was not in the least bit sexually gratifying. This is clearly "for the art". It is also clearly experimental.

Really, really experimental.