Escape from Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith

August 18, 2018

Documentary, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Worth seeing for the movie clips.

Escape from Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith

Mark Demetrius
Year: 2018
Rating: NA
Director: Jerry Tartaglia

Jack Smith, Maria Montez, Beverly Grant, Tony Conrad

Distributor: Sydney Underground Film Festival
Released: September 13 – 16, 2018
Running Time: 88 minutes
Worth: $12.00

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Worth seeing for the movie clips.

Jack Smith (1932-1989) was a pioneering and influential filmmaker of the underground (though he disliked the term) – as important in certain ways as Warhol or Kenneth Anger. So, he’s a potentially great subject for a film. This one is a “film essay” rather than a biography or linear documentary, which means that there are no talking heads, no critics, no friends… just extracts from Smith’s films and other archival visual material, overlaid by audio recordings of the man himself.

Unfortunately, Smith’s spoken delivery is monotonous, slow and riddled with “ums” and “ers”, while his conversational content veers between the embittered – “It’s a tale of nagging heartbreak” – and the oblique. And some of the ‘home movie’ stuff leaves a bit to be desired too. There is, for example, a point where successive stills of a man taking a toy penguin for a ‘walk’ around Rome on a leash cross over from the amusingly absurd into the tedious.

The good news is that some of the clips from Smith’s actual movies – shorts, for the most part – are terrific. Most impressive – and for many years quite notorious – is Flaming Creatures, a sumptuous and sometimes sinister 45-minute exercise in inspired high camp in which the cast seemed to be participating in some kind of ancient arcane ritual. The similarly titled Respectable Creatures (featuring Tiny Tim) is diverting too. And then there’s the comic androgyny of I Was A Male Yvonne De Carlo

Jack Smith’s cinematic world was an over-the-top one of drag queens, mummies, snakes, Cleopatra impersonators and operatic melodrama. It was also an intensely creative one.

Worth seeing for the movie clips.

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