Oct 10, 2013
Despite being the director’s only feature-length film and filmed in titillating Technicolor, Normal Love (1963) aka Normal Fantasy aka Tales of Cement Lagoon aka The Great Patsy Triumph directed by meta-campy cocksucker Jack Smith (Buzzards Over Baghdad, Scotch Tape) was never actually finished and what remains today is a curious collection of semi-high-camp tableaux with next to nil in the way of discernible plot. Featuring a number of old school art fag superstars (Warhol stole the idea of superstars from Smith) and off-off-Broadway degenerates, including Mario Montez, Diane di Prima, Tiny Tim, and Andy Warhol, among various others, Normal Love is more or less the sort of film you would watch if you want to overdose on kitsch and camp to the point where you never want to see a flaming fag in drag and/or haggard hag ever again. Apparently intentionally abandoned after Mr. Smith could not deal with the fact that his micro magnum opus Flaming Creatures (1963)—an odious and obscene vampiric orgy of the sometimes scatological sort that the director himself somewhat adequately described as “a comedy set in a haunted music studio”—was seized by the police at its premiere on April 29, 1963 at the Bleecker Street Cinema in NYC and ultimately declared “obscene” by a New York City as he believed if he never completed another film they could not be seized/banned by authorities, Normal Love is next to impossible to view today unless you’re degenerate and/or aesthetically-disabled enough to dig going to modern art galleries, and thus the film now lies in the camp garbage can of underground cinema history as a work with all the ingredients of a masterpiece, but which somehow falls short of being such, as if the auteur foresaw he would die of AIDS and panicked, ultimately throwing away his very potential opportunity of becoming America’s foremost fag filmmaker. The closest to an American Werner Schroeter, albeit with a less refined taste in art and aesthetics and a greater influence from Golden Age Hollywood, Jack Smith was once described by the ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters as “The only true underground filmmaker” and, indeed, unlike Andy Warhol, he and his films are still in the underground, with Normal Love being the strongest confirmation that the auteur could have never dig himself out of the aberrant-garde netherworld. Part pomo homo Busby Berkeley tribute, part overly obsessive orientalist orgy, part killer camp catastrophe, part humorously hideous homage to “The Queen of Technicolor” Maria Montez, part dimestore drag queen diva debauchery, and part 1930s-style monster movie, Normal Love seems like it was directed by an autistic child poof on the verge of schizophrenia and having a DIY sex-change, which, at the very least, is not something you can say about many other films, including those of the unhinged aberrosexual underground.
Unlike the warped warehouse weirdness that is Flaming Creatures, Normal Love is set in a sort of poof pastoral pandemonium where every beauteous freak, fierce fag hag, histrionic whore tranny, and just about every other imaginable/unimaginable social and sexual misfit roams and comes out to play. Featuring crappy and cartoonish plastic spiders, gay men in pink spandex with unflattering man-camel-toes, pregnant chicks with pointy titty tassles, ashy Aunt Jemina-esque tranny negroes carrying around watermelons, Hispanic transman mermaids swimming in unsavory white liquid (played by Smith’s muse Mario Montez, who is ostensibly swimming in milk), a shaved head mongoloid ‘child’ from homo hell, mundane mummies that are more merry than murderous and drink fine wine in a most dapper manner, a wackjob werewolf with a perverse proclivity toward spiritually defiling mermaids via Coca-Cola, and a green Cobra Woman with an unconscious talent for attracting mummy molesters, among various other radical rejects of sub-supernatural subhumankind, Normal Love is anything but what its innately idiotically ironic title advertises. Although far below in the underground and never officially completed, Normal Love would go on to inspire not just would-be-weirdo Warhol, but Italian maestro Federico Fellini, who was shown the film by avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas (who was arrested in 1964 for screening Smith's Flaming Creatures) and whose first color film Juliet of the Spirits (1965) aka Giulietta degli spiriti, as well as his homoerotic epic Fellini Satyricon (1969) is suavely serenaded in Jack Smith’s keenly kaleidoscopic camp imagery. Of course, no matter how self-indulgent critics claim Fellini’s later films to be, they pale in comparison to the plainly plot-less, aesthetic preposterousness of Smith’s Normal Love.
As revealed in a vintage soundclip in the documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2006), Jack Smith started regarding his intention with Normal Love, “After the sickeningly pasty reception in New York City of Flaming Creatures, I was not likely to make another movie that the people of my own city couldn’t see…So I spent my summer out in the country shooting…a lovely, pasty, pink and green color, movie…that is going to be the definitive pasty expression,” yet he ultimately gave up on his perverted pastoral pasty picture, hence one of the many reasons why it is virtually impossible to find today, which is rather unfortunate, if not a cinematic tragedy. Visually speaking, Normal Love is indubitably Smith’s greatest work of esoteric high-camp ecstasy, though Flaming Creatures is his magnum opus of “raging” and “flaming.” While Smith is known to constantly re-edit Normal Love, even during actual screenings, I managed to find a long 1 hour and 46 minute cut of the film that is probably the closest to a definitive cut and I feel vaguely blessed for that. A self-described anarchist who once stated “I want to be uncommercial film personified” and was described by his friends as the “real Warhol”, Jack Smith once had the grand honor of George Lucas describing his film Normal Love as “a jumbled mess...even though the pictures themselves were flowing beautifully,” which is one of the few things I can agree with Mr. Star Wars on. Interestingly, Andy Warhol, who once quite humbly described Jack Smith's influence on him as a filmmaker as follows, “Jack Smith was filming a lot out there and I picked something up from him for my own movies — the way he used anybody who happened to be around that day and also how he just kept shooting until the actors got bored,” also directed a documentary/newsreel of sorts entitled Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming 'Normal Love' (1963) depicting the kooky cast and director of Normal Love, but is was unfortunately seized by the police who thought it was Flaming Creatures and is now presumed lost forever. Ultimately dying on September 25, 1989 from AIDS-related pneumonia after previously declaring to friends before actually receiving gay cancer that perishing from AIDS would be a so-called ‘glamorous way to die’, Jack Smith was unquestionably a debauched dude with a damaged brain, but at least it also give him the creative capacity to direct a film like Normal Love.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:48 PM
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