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Mary Jordan’s Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, which premiered Wednesday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a real triumph — a great doc on an artist that manages to encapsulate the spirit and values of its subject while situating his work historically and testifying to his influence on the generations that followed him.

Jack Smith was an artist, photographer, filmmaker and performance artist who achieved a blast of notoriety in the early ’60s when his experimental film Flaming Creatures was dubbed obscene and banned in various states and countries. But as Jordan details in her film, Smith resented the attention Flaming Creatures generated and dedicated the rest of his days to creating work that couldn’t be so easily encapsulated. (In later films like Normal Love, Smith would go to the theaters himself with reels of the movie and splice it live as it was being projected.) Jordan covers, among many other things, Smith’s early years, his hatred of his mother, his love of Dominican film star Maria Montez, his discovery/creation of tranvestite superstar Mario Montez, his bitter anti-capitalism, his various intersections with Andy Warhol, his influence on Federic Fellini, his five-hour performances of the ’70s and 80’s, and finally his death from AIDS.

We’ll cover this film more extensively in the magazine in the future — these are just quick thoughts — but it seemed to me that Jordan, who was one of our “25 New Faces” last year, made all the right choices in her film. From her extensive use of Smith’s strange, incantatory voice, recordings of which run throughout the movie, to her layered montage to her choice of interview subjects, Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis is a lovingly crafted portrait of the artist that also feels like something of an aesthetic manifesto, a forceful argument for the continuing importance of Smith’s ideas and art practices.

Watch the trailer here.

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