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Flaming Creatures: A Review

Jack Smith’s  Flaming Creatures (1962-63) is at times campy, at times explicit (especially for the early sixties) and mostly confusing.  I was hopeful at the beginning—what with the dramatic music, filmy imagery and the announcement that  urgent whisper that “Ali Baba comes tonite”—but I was quickly disappointed. I have to say that this is my least favorite film thus far.

The ‘ad’ for a ‘heartshaped lipstick’ (among other types) might be the most interesting segment of the film. Set against (mostly) transvestite types applying lipstick and with kissing, sucking sounds in the background—a rather clipped voice introduces and describes the new lipsticks (of course a phallic, oral symbol)—while fielding incongruous questions regarding if and where the lipstick may rub off.  Soon we see that the lipstick appliers are intertwined together and different body parts are placed and manipulated in (what are supposed to be) alarming, suggestive ways.

After an odd rape/molestation scene that is full of (again) intertwining beings doing sexual things with lots of background screeching, fast panning, close-ups and shaking scenes, camera etc. I was starting to lose interest fast. I think part of the problem could be with the quality of the film itself—I often could not make out just what I was seeing and whether the vague imagery was part of Smith’s intent or due to the deterioration of the film.  After what seems like total destruction/devastation as a result of the raping—the victim is ‘rescued’ by a woman—yet she, too, begins treating the woman sexually, although this time the victim does not seem to mind. I think there might be a point here—or at least, an attempt at making one. Perhaps it’s something to do with the comfort and reassurance of same-sex love?

Smith’s film is full of a lot of posing or posturing—usually while a sexual act is being performed somewhere within the scene.

Then there is the dance sequence.  This begins with what looks like a Marilyn Monroe imitator rising from a coffin and (I think) starting to recall dancing with his/her now dead lover. There are lots and lots and lots of dancing. The interminable dancing goes on with ever-increasing amounts of formally dressed (mostly) transvestites and some strange white objects and substances that seem to close in and envelope everyone. In the meantime we are shown various shots of a breast in ‘still life’ with someone’s finger or hand touching it. Oh and I think the “Spanish Lady” in black is significant—but I’m not sure why—maybe he/she signifies death.

The only two things I can say positive about Flaming Creatures is that the corpse-rising/dead lover does remind me a bit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)—and I enjoyed the diverse soundtrack, which included a bit of dramatic Spanish and Arabian-sounding ‘theatrical’ music, the country hit “Honky-Tonk Angels, “ a little bit of rockabilly and some interesting Asian sounds.  Finally, there is something to be said about symbolism and suggestion—Flaming Creatures is a much-more direct, in-your-face film than Anger’s comparable Fireworks (1947)—but of the two, I much prefer the latter. I felt as if Anger has something to say—something to express–while Smith just offers shock value and gratuitous sexual imagery.  Where the Hell is Ali Baba? This film sure could use him.

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About ageer370

I'm in my final semester as a grad student of media studies, I'm also 'Mom' to my 15-year-old autistic son. My interests are film history--its analysis and criticism; the art of rhetoric as well as cultural history from about the Edwardian period to the present.

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