Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming "Normal Love" (lost experimental Andy Warhol short film; 1963)
Advertisement for a screening of the film at the Gramercy Arts Theatre from October 1963.
Normal Love is an experimental film created by American director and photographer Jack Smith that starred Mario Montez, Beverly Grant, and Tony Conrad among others. The film was shot in 1963, and consisted of six loosely connected segments, each of which focused on the adventures of an ensemble of glamorously dressed monsters.
The film would intentionally be left unfinished during Smith's lifetime due to Smith fearing that his work would be reproduced or co-opted, but multiple rushes and rough cuts of the films would be publicly displayed between 1963 and 1965, with runtimes ranging from two to four hours. Following Smith's death in 1989, filmmaker Jerry Tartaglia would work on the preservation and restoration of the film's footage, eventually making use of many of Smith's verbal and written notes about the film in order to produce a two-hour long cut of it that attempted to stay true to Smith's vision.
Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming "Normal Love"
While Normal Love would not be finished while Smith was still alive, the project would still impact other experimental films of a similar nature, with Smith later using footage shot for Normal Love in his short films Exotic Landlordism, Cement Lagoon, and Respectable Creatures. But alongside Smith's other projects, Normal Love would also provide an early filmmaking opportunity for noted visual artist Andy Warhol, who produced a four-minute short film documenting Normal Love's production that was titled Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming "Normal Love".
The short, which was produced in the style of a silent newsreel, was filmed over the course of a weekend in August 1963, and was shot on a 1929 Bolex Auto Cine B film camera that belonged to the father of Sally Stokes, the future wife of Warhol's close friend and fellow artist Wynn Chamberlain. Filming of the short took place in a property belonging to a pair of nudist Buddhists in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and documented the making of Normal Love's "cake sequence", in which a group of people dance atop a large cake designed by sculptor Claes Oldenburg, out of which a Pink Faery emerges.
Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming "Normal Love" would make its cinematic debut in late 1963, being frequently shown in screenings arranged by experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas at the Gramercy Arts Theatre in New York City. In February 1964, the short would be shown in New York City's New Bowery Theatre alongside a screening of Jack Smith's previous film Flaming Creatures. The two films were shown in the theatre as a program titled "Our Infamous Surprise Program", and would be shown twice more in this fashion throughout the proceeding month. But midway through the third showing of Flaming Creatures on March 3rd, 1964, the screening would be halted by the New York Police Department, who promptly seized the reels of both films, confiscated the projection equipment on which they were shown, and arrested the individuals who arranged the screening, those being Jonas Mekas, fellow experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, and Jacobs' wife Florence Karpf.
Due to the often vulgar and sexually explicit nature of Flaming Creatures, the New York Police Department had deemed the film to be in violation of New York's obscenity laws, and thus charged Mekas, Jacobs, and Karpf with showing an obscene film. Warhol himself was reportedly quite pleased with his short having been taken in such a manner, later writing that “Some underground filmmakers actually kind of hoped the police would seize their movies so they’d get in all the papers for being persecuted for ‘freedom of expression,’ and that was always considered a worthy cause.”
The case (People of the State of New York v. Kenneth Jacobs, Florence Karpf and Jonas Mekas) would eventually be brought before the New York Supreme Court on June 12th, 1964, with expert testimony from filmmakers Shirley Clarke and Willard Van Dyke, poet Allen Ginsberg, writer Susan Sontag, and film historian Herman G. Weinberger being given as part of the defense. The defendants were initially convicted of violating New York's obscenity laws, but following an appeal, this conviction was reversed, with the New York Supreme Court stating in its opinion that "whatever view this Court might hold as to the obscenity of Flaming Creatures, it is manifest that the appellants herein believe in good faith that the film is not obscene."
The charges leveled against the defendants were subsequently dropped, and the films reels for Flaming Creatures were returned. However, for unknown reasons, the print containing Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming "Normal Love" was not returned alongside them, and the short would subsequently never be seen again. It is unknown if any copies of the film beyond the print seized by the New York Police Department exist, nor is it known if the New York Police Department are still in possession of the seized copy at all, meaning that the film may remain lost forever.
- Page for Jack Smith on the website Warholstars.org. Retrieved 05 Nov '22
- Page for Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming "Normal Love" on Mubi. Retrieved 05 Nov '22
- Dwoskin Project Blog #19: Steve and Andy. Retrieved 05 Nov '22
- The Prosecution Resets in a 1964 Obscenity Case. Retrieved 05 Nov '22