Magazine article Artforum International

Factory Inspected

Magazine article Artforum International

Factory Inspected

Article excerpt

There was a short time, late in 1963, when audiences for avant-garde cinema in New York could witness two intersecting entourages converging upon film screenings. The one group, Jack Smith and his "creatures," was breaking up just as the other, Andy Warhol and his associates, was expanding. Warhol was by then a solidly established painter with his most original work behind him, but as a filmmaker and charismatic leader he was an astute student of Smith's. It was probably the succes de scandale of Flaming Creatures that lured Warhol to the downtown and Murray Hill showplaces of avant-garde film. In turn, he drew Smith and the creatures to his midtown Factory, where he used them in some of his early, silent films. Among Warhol's extended network of art-world society, Smith found one of his first patrons, Isabel Eberstadt.

In the faculty of the imagination called invention, Jack Smith was preeminent among filmmakers. The fecundity with which he envisioned startling, sensual arabesques and his capacity for transforming lowly, ugly material into pyrotechnic spectacles invested even his most fragmented films and plays with a promise of exquisite elaboration. The immediacy of his invention was most apparent when he seized on the chaotic exigencies of low-budget filmmaking to enrich the atmospheric density of the art he was creating before the camera.

Warhol shared Smith's fascination with Hollywood and parodied its star system; he distilled and formalized the dense black and white texture of Smith's cinematography, and he, like Smith, encouraged his followers to give themselves ironic pseudonyms. But above all, Warhol radicalized and mechanized Smith's aggressive use of time. Smith was a master of delay. One remembers a full audience, packed into a dilapidated loft, waiting hours for a performance to begin as Smith puttered around or ran about in a tizzy adjusting a set or costume just off-stage while over and over again recordings narrating Jackie Kennedy's childhood alternated with the life of St. Vincent de Paul. Was that part of the play? Was Normal Love really rushes, regularly screened in public, for a film that was never supposed to be completed? Against the backdrop of delay and anticipation his imagination shone most vividly.

Unlike Warhol, who had a genius for attracting and holding on to collaborators and powerful supporters, Smith, who was fully as charismatic, was a Blakean agonist in his personal relations, thriving on enmity, with the power to mythologize his antagonisms, his obsessions, and his fantasies. …

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