Flaming Creatures is a non-narrative, Dionysian orgy, complete with wild dancing, gender bending, and a climactic earthquake. The carnivalesque madness of the film is reinforced by the chaotic density of its formal composition. Jack Smith’s deliberate spatial disorientation creates a pansexual landscape of tangled body parts; just as the viewer is unable to situate the visual coordinates of the image, the creatures are unaware of which extremity belongs to whom.
Once a year, an aristocratic Austrian family holds a traditional feast at which masters and servants trade places. A troupe of actors (including cult cabaret artist Ingrid Caven) are hired to entertain the guests, performing fragments from the “cultural scrap heap”: GONE WITH THE WIND, Madame Bovary, Tennessee Williams, Swan Lake. The decadent proceedings take on a dangerous edge when the actors incite the servants to revolt against their masters-but is the Revolution also part of the act?
Jack Smith’s third feature film was originally titled “The Kidnapping of Wendell Willkie by the Love Bandit,” in reaction to the 1968 Presidential Campaign. Willkie was a liberal Republican who ran against FDR in the 1940’s. It mixes B&W footage of Smith’s creatures with old campaign footage of Willkie. The climax of the work appears to be the “auctioning” of the presidential candidate at the convention.
In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue.