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UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program present

Flaming Creatures: Jack Smith, Barbara Rubin and the Cinematic Orgiastic

A person holding and smelling a string of flowers.
July 15, 2023 -
July 16, 2023

On April 29, 1963, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963) had its theatrical premiere on a double bill with Ken Jacobs’ Blonde Cobra (1963) as part of Jonas Mekas’ screening series at the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York. The screening would prove to be a milestone in both the development of the American avant-garde and the cause of artistic freedom. The editor of Film Culture magazine and maestro of the New York underground film scene, Mekas celebrated the films’ complete liberation from preconceived notions of cinematic quality, rational meaning and binary sexuality: “These are a few examples of … a free, unforced, spontaneous, liberating, newborn poetry … Their imagination, coming from deeply ‘deranged’ or, more truly, rearranged & liberated senses, is boundless.” In December that year, Mekas set out to honor Smith’s work with a reprise midnight screening of Flaming Creatures at the Tivoli Theater at which Smith would be presented with Film Culture’s annual Independent Film Award. Before the show could begin, New York City’s Bureau of Licenses shut it down, prompting a spontaneous takeover of the theater led by another young filmmaker, Barbara Rubin. Inspired by Creatures, Rubin made her own debut work in 1963, Christmas on Earth, that took Smith’s orgiastic camp to even more explicit heights (the 18-year-old filmmaker’s original title was Cocks and Cunts). In 1964, Mekas and Ken Jacobs were convicted of showing obscene material and received suspended sentences but the proverbial cat was out of the bag. While Smith came to resent the critical straightjacket that the censorship debate imposed on his work, Flaming Creatures’ captivating combination of threadbare opulence and boisterous gender fluidity opened wholly new and radical forms of cinematic expression. This program marks the 60th anniversary of that original double bill followed by an evening of works inspired by Flaming Creatures in which images and bodies slide over one another in a tumult of freedom and feeling.

Special thanks to our community partner, Los Angeles Filmforum.

Past Programs & Events

Title Date and Time Location
Artist Yayoi Kusama.

Chumlum / Kusama's Self-Obliteration / Christmas on Earth

Sunday, July 16, 2023 - 7:00 pm Billy Wilder Theater

Blonde Cobra / Flaming Creatures

Saturday, July 15, 2023 - 7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater