Monday, 20 July 2009


Working on discarded colour-reversal film stock and a budget of $300, Jack Smith paints a series of dotty vignettes featuring people who transcend gender, whether convincingly or superficially. Transvestites, hermaphrodites and masculine-jawed women coalesce to the sound of scratchy records. The rituals of the female are carried out by a group of hairy males. Gatherings of these androgynes engage in furious orgies. The camera, rarely acknowledged (at least not deliberately) by its subjects, stands uncomfortably close to some intimate moments, shuddering and shaking with delight.

In content, the film pushes little further than hysterical sexual hedonism (although most of the penises present – and there are many – are flaccid). Thematically however, Smith seems to address the issue of fluid gender in a positive, radical manner, presaging the imminent sexual revolution of the later sixties. The subjects in his film don’t appear to have any reservations or confusions about their state of hermaphroditism.

The film stock itself has a middling effect on the piece, its selection due to budgetary constraints rather than creative decisions. However, on occasion an image is lost in a muddy grey, as if the cosmetic ideals within were soon to expire. Regarding film history, Smith seems to have at least an awareness of, if not veneration for, the silent-era starlets, and Georges Méliès’ playfulness comes to mind more than once. If nothing else, the piece will stick with you, not least because of the sequence where a nipple gyrates faster and faster until it becomes an erotic blur.

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