- Jack Smith
|Maria Montez in Robert Siodmak's Cobra Woman (1944)|
|Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)|
|Andy Warhol and Mario Montez|
In Destruction of Atlantis, Jordan poses the question of what Flaming Creatures ultimately owes to the controversy surrounding it, as it was eventually banned in 22 states and 4 countries, with prints being impounded by the Attorney General as late as 1968, and protests in opposition to the censorship of the film arising on numerous college campuses (one of the primary sites being University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the same city that spawned the initial petition against the MPAA ruling on Bully). The initial police raids the film experienced in New York in 1963 were often attributed to an effort to "clean up" the city in the year leading up to the 1964 World's Fair, as Lenny Bruce continued to wonder aloud on stage, "Is it becoming chic to arrest me?"
Like Bruce, Smith had a distinctive voice (literally and figuratively) that challenged the idea of where obscenity truly resides, and it's this use of Smith's voice in Jordan's film that transcends the controversy, revealing a creative and revolutionary mind that is as potent today as it ever was (even if Flaming Creatures itself might not be). Jordan's "thesis statement" for the film, set to a glorious montage of Smith footage, comes in the form of Smith raging: "In this country there's a profound hatred of art...but if it is real art, they cannot help it...it must get mutilated!" This quote on its own may seem relevant enough to us today, but more specifically the threat of "mutilation" in the form of institutionalized homophobia and censorship continues to be enacted in 2012, as was the case recently with performance artist Tim Miller being banned from teaching a workshop at Villanova in Philadelphia. As with the MPAA, and the invention of the Production Code for that matter, this particular instance of censorship has a strong tie to Catholicism, as Villanova's President, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, stated "concerns that his performances were not in keeping with our Catholic and Augustinian values and mission" (even though Miller was never slated to perform his own work, but rather teach a workshop that would enable students to craft performance work built around a particular theme: "a day in your life when you told the truth"). Villanova's ban held, though not without protest, and the partially happy end to the story is that Miller performed last weekend in an alternate venue in Philly not far from the college, hopefully solidifying the message that banning an artist and educator like Miller in 2012 is an outrage, and the only thing that could possibly make Donohue seem more absurd would be running around Philly trying to put the kibosh on screenings of Fatty Arbuckle pictures.