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Kirkus ReviewsA vividly eccentric and entertaining posthumous collection of essays, interviews, scripts, cartoons, and fragmentary jottings from one of the granddaddies of American avant-garde filmmaking.
Best known for the underground (and much banned) classic Flaming Creatures, Smith possessed a highly original, camp- inflected aesthetic that inspired everyone from Andy Warhol to Robert Wilson. Consider his synopsis of the grand finale of his film Sinbad in the Rented World: "In the confusion of the climatic [sic] roach stampede, the Lobster in his final priestly disguise with the forehead-earring of exoticism in his back pocket, is drowned in Plaster Lagoon and now is hardened over." As this illustrates, Smith's work was informed by a unique, gnomic argot and set of stylized obsessions bordering on fetishism. Hoberman (film critic for the Village Voice) and Leffingwell (curator for an exhibition about Smith that will open this spring) helpfully provide a kind of field guide to this world where "Lobsters" are greedy landlords, "mynah birds" are imitators, and the phrase "scum of Bagdad" is a term of high praise. But the queen of Smith's universe was the 1940s B-movie actress Maria Montez. Not only did she "feature" in many of Smith's films, she also inspired his aesthetic theories. In a seminal 1962 essay, included here, Smith turns the conventions of Hollywood film upside down. Naturalistic acting ("reptilian acting") is bad; bad acting is good; visuals are everything and script/dialogue only get in the way; and kitsch is noble and uplifting. Though the issues it raises are far from settled, this ringing defense of "pure cinema" anticipates not only Pop Art but postmodernism as well. Much of the rest of this collection is either a reiteration or an elaboration of these core theories.
Smith is perhaps too obscure for the general movie-going public, but as these pieces ably demonstrate, he is an important part of the American avant-garde tradition.