Flaming Creatures: That Fine Line Between Porn and Art

The next film on our list is Flaming Creatures, a 1963 short by Jack Smith.  Its claim to fame is that it was pulled from very limited distribution after being judged obscene by the New York Criminal Court.  Why is it on the list?  Mostly because it's edgy and controversial, although surprisingly not that explicit.  I mean...considering the fact that the NYPD seized it at the premiere.

The first thing I notice about the film: I don't know if it's the fact that prints of this very cheaply made film have aged incredibly poorly, or simply the director's tendency to do extreme close-ups and quick cuts, but half the time I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking at.  And I'm not going to lie -- I'm slightly relieved by that. But sometimes I'll look at the screen and be paying attention to the person putting lipstick on...and then I'll suddenly realize that they have a penis resting gently on their shoulder and I'm not sure what to make out of any of it.

And, umm...what's with the extended rape/orgy scene?  Why am I in a position where I'm reviewing films about which I have to ask, "What's with the extended rape/orgy scene"?  And the random vampire?  And the literally five minute long scene with a bunch of people putting on frankly gratuitous amounts of lipstick?  So many questions, none of which I really want answered.

My most charitable response to this film is that it was a reflection of the more sexually explicit elements of New York City counterculture.  The better filmed parts seem almost like the excesses of the Roman Empire.  But ultimately, I can't help but thinking the only reason this film is still remembered is because 49 years ago it got banned for being obscene.  If there's a better way to get attention for your cheap, amateur short film, I can't think of one.

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