YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
In the issue of Filmmaker we just sent to the printer today (which explains the slacking on the blog), Steve Gallagher interviews Mary Jordan, director of Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. The doc portrait of artist and filmmaker Jack Smith opens in New York tomorrow at the Film Forum, and I highly recommend it. Here’s an excerpt from Steve’s piece:
Filmmaker: Were you surprised to discover that Jack Smith’s work is so political?
Jordan: I’m a human rights person. I was a social activist myself before I got interested in Jack. So, for me, this documentary is a human rights film dripping in art. That’s how I’ve always seen it. Some other people might have made a film about Jack Smith differently than I did, they might not have seen his political manifestoes as something to stand on. I find them relevant and I think they are very much a part of who he is. This a guy who is actually very clear on what is going on and who is using himself to expose the way capitalism works. And so for me, Jack was a political activist in the art world. He makes beautiful art, and he’s political.
That’s a very interesting break between Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, for instance. Both reveal capitalism for what it is in different ways. I prefer Jack’s madman to Warhol’s conformist, but these two trajectories in art are interesting to compare. One resists capitalism, goes against it, and works his whole life to expose the duplicity of ownership, and the other embraces capitalism and turns himself into a product.
Filmmaker: I never got to meet Jack Smith, but I always heard stories about how famously difficult he was to work with. And yet, aside from Flaming Creatures, the aspect of Jack’s work that is most influential was his reluctance to start his screenings or performances time, his inability to conform to a schedule or to perform at all if he didn’t feel like it. I’ve often heard that people often didn’t know when or if a performance had started; the performance itself was indistinguishable from real life. Artists like Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson and the Wooster Group were enormously influenced by the experience of attending one of Smith’s performances.
Jordan: Again, that aspect of Jack’s work, not starting on time, is so anti-capitalistic. Time is money, after all. For Jack, performance was about the magical moment, whenever that happened. If it happened six hours from now in an accident when a ladder falls, that’s fantastic. People I’ve talked with who attended performances by Jack describe sitting around for six-plus hours, tired, waiting for something to happen, and then finally when it happens, it seems like the most important moment in life.
Filmmaker: Your consciousness is already altered before the show even begins.
Jordan: I think that’s exactly what Jack Smith was doing: altering consciousness. He takes you through these rites of passage, these rituals – adjusting lights for three hours, assembling and reassembling costumes and props. You are part of the process of the making of the art. You don’t just come, pay, sit down and watch a show.
I talked with these folks in Colorado who had invited Jack to perform at the university there, and they said he was a menace to deal with, he was totally insane, he requested all these things they couldn’t deliver. He even wrote them a hate letter after he left. They told me it took them years to figure out that this guy had actually blown their minds and forever changed the way they look at art.
For more on the film, check out this round-up at GreenCine.