From one angle, Jack Smith is little more than an historical oddity.
After his experimental 1963 film Flaming Creatures was labelled obscene and widely banned, Smith reportedly vowed never to complete a movie again.
When he died in New York from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, Smith’s profile had slipped far below that of contemporaries like Andy Warhol, and outside film circles he remains little known today.
But according to a new documentary about the late director, Smith’s life deserves closer scrutiny.
You realised that he was really standing for a lot of the stuff that we’re not standing for enough today -“ freedom and free will, closer to equality, wanting us to get over all of this division, unite together and get along, Mary Jordan, director of Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis, says.
He was just really a very open person, and I mean open in that -¦ aesthetically and artistically, one shouldn’t be limited because of rules.
He had this great quote where he said -˜the more boundaries broken, the more richness of the activity’.
Smith was also defiantly queer, and Jordan says his refusal to conform on any level was illuminating.
I think it’s important that Jack was very openly queer and that that’s what he used to call himself, she says.
But he didn’t like the divisions within the queer movement, so all these names and cross-sections and cutting things down -“ he really wanted it as a fluid whole.
Canadian-born Jordan became interested in Smith about seven years ago when she discovered a close friend had worked with the late director.
Jordan then set about making Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis, a process she likens to excavating New York City.
Over about five years, Jordan interviewed scores of Smith’s contemporaries, of the likes of Pink Flamingos director John Waters.
She also included footage from Smith’s films and archival material from people who knew him.
I really wanted to get a full grasp of the multiple views even people who met him for like five minutes had, Jordan says.
He was very complex and each person knew him very differently from the next.
By today’s sex-saturated standards, Flaming Creatures and its depiction of lesbian kissing, a flaccid penis and exposed breasts may seem unremarkable, Jordan says.
But she says the film remains important for its artistic treatment of sex and sexuality.
I don’t think the nudity or sexuality expressed [today] is out of an aesthetic, artistic element. It’s very minimised in Hollywood. The Europeans are so far ahead of that, Jordan says.
And yet we have more porn sites on the internet in America than in any other country, so it’s very strange.
Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis screens as part of the Sydney Film Festival on 21 and 23 June, 6:30pm at George Street Cinemas. For bookings call 136 100 or visit the Sydney Film Festival website.