For years I'd been hearing about the sensational film Flaming Creatures which seemingly influenced filmmakers and dramatists from Andy Warhol, John Waters, and Federico Fellini to Cindy Sherman and Richard Foreman.
Flaming Creatures' forty-five washed out, dated minutes depict a place where a cast of tacky transvestites and other terminal types (some costumed as recognizable genre faves—a Spanish dancer, a vampire, an exotic temptress), accompanied by recordings of popular music, shrieks, and snatches of Hollywood soundtracks ("Ali Baba is coming! Ali Baba is coming!") dance, grope, stare, posture, and wave their penises with childlike joy. The marriage of Heaven and Hell presented with playful depravity.
The creatures in Smith's film are aflame with buried desires—blindingly bright passions to show off, to love, to dance, to cry out, perhaps even to die—the creatures burning up before our eyes. What makes this film so troubling to some I believe is that it is almost a screed simultaneously to life and to extinction, a kind of mad portrayal of Heaven and Hell: not St. Peter's Heaven paved with good acts nor Lucifer's burning inferno but internal heavens and hells within each of us, often so potent that coherent language and expression cannot be reached. Smith himself described the work as "a comedy set in a haunted movie studio," which at first, given the very ludicrousness of the actor's portrayals, I dismissed.
Los Angeles, November 13, 2009