Format: Streaming video from Ubu.com on laptop.
Oh…shit. Another one of these films. Just when I thought it was safe to go into uncharted territories again, I opted for Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, a short experimental art film that, like many films in the genre, doesn’t make much sense. This is an interesting one, though, because Flaming Creatures was banned upon release in New York for being obscene. It’s not hard to see why this was declared obscene for its time—in the opening 10 minutes of people putting on lipstick, there are multiple mentions of oral sex and shots of flaccid penii, frequently in the immediate proximity of the lipstick-adorned mouths of men. There are also a lot of disturbing kissy noises, more flopping penii…really, the things I do for this blog.
This is a plotless film running something under an hour but feels like a lot more. For long stretches of the film nothing really happens. Then there are moments of bizarre imagery (flopping penii overlaying naked breast), a horde of transvestitism and (I think) hermaphrodism and something that looks and sounds quite a bit like a rape, close-ups of bouncing nipples. I’m baffled, and that’s just the first 15 minutes.
It becomes evident after this that what we’re observing is something like an orgy, but I’ll be damned if I can tell if anyone is enjoying it. There’s a lot of screaming going on and it’s impossible to determine in the visuals if any of this is consensual. It’s also incredibly violent and awful. It is the least appealing sex I have ever seen in a film. Oh, I’m sure someone can point to other films that will top this one, but those aren’t films I want to watch.
As usual with films like this, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be thinking at any time. What I am thinking when I see a massive pile of semi-nude bodies groping each other is, “How much longer can this piece of shit go on?” And then, just as I think that, we’re back to what looks like a graphic gang rape sequence overlayed with sounds of screaming and elephant noises, and then we’re in the afterglow, with all of the participants lying around. The exception is that the woman who may have just been raped is dragged off and possibly raped again, this time by a woman, or a guy dressed as a woman, or something else. I don’t know. I came very close to giving up more than once here.
There are a couple of important questions that need to be asked with a film like this one. First, is it obscene? I get why it was considered obscene in its day, but we’re made of sterner stuff these days. It takes more than what might be a cunnilingus-fueled gang rape and flaccid, bouncing penii to make the censors’ magic wands show up. I see that times have changed in many respects, and what was once shocking is now at least tolerated. So if it was obscene, it certainly isn’t by the standards of today.
The second question is whether or not any of this is any good. I have to tell you, dear reader, that Flaming Creatures is an incomprehensible mass of images and warped musical scores (literally) and I have no idea of its intent.
I should say something about the sound. Some of it is fine, but a great deal of it sounds like it has become seriously warped over time. Because of the nature of the film, I have no idea if this is something that has actually happened to the film because of a lack of care or typical wear and tear or if this was intentional and part of the film from the start.
What I do know is that I don’t want to watch this again, and I’m glad it’s done. Plenty of people would call this thing an assault on the senses, and they’d be right. Others would and will call it a filmed obscenity, and they might well be right, too. As for me, I just want nothing more to do with it.
Why to watch Flaming Creatures: How often can you say you’ve seen something banned for obscenity?
Why not to watch: Like a lot of experimental film, it’s not so easily deciphered.