Still from The Whirled, by Ken Jacobs (1963) – © Ken Jacobs


The Whirled (1956-63), 18 min, color & b/w

The following four films include early images of Jack Smith.  1. Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice (1956)  2. Little Cobra Dance (1956)  3. Hunch Your Back (1963)  4. Death of P’Town (1961)  The first two sections were shot around Jack’s loft on Reade Street on two 100′ 16 mm. rolls.  Sunday morning, following Saturday’s sacrifice, I saw there was another 50 feet left.  In an impromptu way very different from my initial fastidious art-film approach, I quickly filmed Jack on the roof alongside his loft.  The results had us falling onto the floor and I would never be an art-film true-believer again.  After years of shooting my raging epic STAR SPANGLED TO DEATH starring Jack as The Spirit Not of Life But of Living, and after a few months of being on the outs with each other, we got together -summer of ’61 in Provincetown- for one last stab at friendship and the making of a film.  In 1963, a snatch of Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice was shown on TV.  I had somehow been invited to participate in a TV quiz program called Back Your Hunch.  (Or was it Hunch Your Back?)

Blonde Cobra (1963), 33 min, color and b&w, sound

Jack says I made the film too heavy. It was his and Bob’s intention to create light monster-movie comedy.  Two comedies, actually, two separate stories that were being shot simultaneously until they had a falling-out over who should pay for the raw stock destroyed in a fire started when Jack’s cat knocked over a candle (Jack was behind in his electricity bill).  Jack claimed it was an act of God and wouldn’t (couldn’t) pay for the burnt film.  In the winter of `59, Bob showed me the footage.  Having no idea of the original story plans I was able to view the material not as the fragments of a failure, of two failures, but as the makings of a new entity.  Bob gave over the footage to me with the freedom to develop it as I saw fit.  I think it was in late 1960 that Jack and I ignored our personal animosities long enough to record his words and songs for the sound track.  The phrases he repeated for me into the tape recorder were mostly ones I’d at some time heard him say; most were pet phrases he loved to recite, over and over, his lessons, and a very few I made up in his style.  This was the procedure for recording his monologues and songs: I played him selections from my 78 collection, music from the `20’s and `30’s, often only the beginning of a record and if he liked it we would restart the record and immediately record.  I don’t think there was a second take of anything, the Cult Of Spontaneity was in the air.  Any lack of clarity is due to the very second-rate equipment, third-rate, fourth-rate, we were using.  I play a piano harp for the Madame Nescience monologue, Jack supplied the Arabic music from his small but choice collection.  There’s also some SAFARI IN HIFI; a Villa-Lobos string quartet speeded up; a haunting section of a children’s 45… Baby Wants To Sleep.  A small amount of my own previous shooting was cut into the film, the “drowning in nescience” color sequence near the beginning.

BLONDE COBRA is an erratic narrative -no, not really a narrative, it’s only stretched out in time for convenience of delivery.  It’s a look in on an exploding life, on a man of imagination suffering pre-fashionable Lower East Side deprivation and consumed with American 1950’s, 40’s, 30’s disgust.  Silly, self-pitying, guilt-strictured and yet triumphing -on one level- over the situation with style, because he’s unapologetically gifted, has a genius for courage, knows that a state of indignity can serve to show his character in sharpest relief.  He carries on, states his presence for what it is.  Does all he can to draw out our condemnation, testing our love for limits, enticing us into an absurd moral posture the better to dismiss us with a regal “screw-off”.
Camera: Bob Fleischner.

America at War, The Home Front: Film Opening (2011), 32 min, color, sound.  Anaglyph 3D.
Video technical assistance, Antoine Catala

Innocent movie-goers never given a chance, captured… in 3D while other Americans invade, bomb and burn to protect our freedoms (to invade, bomb and burn).  They are civilians, with bodies and thoughts far from war. Distance protects our serenity, our amiable enjoyments. Innocent monsters? Perhaps.


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