Nightletter’s review published on Letterboxd:
When Jack Smith transitioned from his relatively brief career as a director headlong into experimental theater in the late 1960s, he already had multiple scandals and groundbreaking films under his belt and had appeared in many more as a muse to Andy Warhol, Ken Jacobs, and Ron Rice. These films capture Smith in amber as he pioneered an intellectually serious approach to camp performance and a low-budget trash aesthetic. But within a few years of his exit, trends in experimental film shifted away from Smith’s obsession with artifice and performance toward something much more austere and theoretical.
But Smith’s transgressive, baroque influence runs far deeper than as a shooting star or as a forefather of cheapo “cult classic” cinema. And it continued to be felt even while some of his contemporaries became more staid and cerebral. This program traces Smith’s immediate progeny in experimental filmmaking who followed his enthusiasm for gender performance and costuming, the tension between trash and classical beauty, and pre-assimilationist gay life.
Bill Vehr, whose films starring Smith have entirely vanished, leaves us with Avocada, a decadent subversion of Hollywood that Smith himself praised as “possessed of gilded glamour.” José Rodriguez-Soltero’s Jerovi is a self-consciously homoerotic low-budget portrait that becomes an onanistic reverie of the body reminiscent of Smith. Takahiko Iimura’s Face is another body-study, this time focusing on three faces in ecstasy to highlight the artifice of performance on screen and the gendered costuming and makeup of the actors, including one of Smith’s great discoveries, Mario Montez. Steven Arnold, one of Smith’s clearest inheritors in the hippie generation, directed The Liberation of the Mannique Mechanique as a dream of surreal androgyny, with impeccable costuming and production design.