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Introduction
1964
3rd March

A screening of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures is raided by police in New York

"We are not looking for a fight. We are not interested in winning this or any other cases. All we want is to make more beautiful films and share them with others. But we are being pushed against the wall, we are being threatened with imprisonment and our films are no longer safe; the Muse is being strangled." Filmmakers' Cooperative Anti-Censorship Fund, The Village Voice, April 8, 1964.

On March 3rd 1964 a screening of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures at the New Bowery Theatre in New York was raided by detectives from the city's District Attorney's office and the film co-op organisers - Jonas Mekas and Ken Jacobs - arrested on obscenity charges. Over the following two weeks Kenneth Anger's film Scorpio Rising was seized in Los Angeles and Jonas Mekas was arrested again in New York for screening Jean Genet's film Un Chant d'Amour, representing a nationwide effort by police to regulate 'underground' screenings.

The seizures and arrests created shockwaves through the New York film community: letters and articles of protest were published in the weeks following in journals and magazines like Film Culture and The Village Voice. Jonas Mekas took a defiant moral stand on the issue, writing at the time of his first arrest - "You may ask me why, with already one "obscenity" charge against me, I am screening another film [Un Chant d'Amour] which in the eyes of the police is considered "obscene". I am doing so because I consider the police actions unlawful, unconstitutional and contrary to man's spiritual growth.' – The Village Voice (April 1964)

The view was shared by the other filmmakers, including Gregory Markopoulos, that Flaming Creatures, and all other films which should be considered art, should not be subject to film censorship laws.

Flaming Creatures was shot on the roof of the Windsor Theatre in Manhattan using outdated filmstock, giving the film a dated, glistening, faded look, for a production cost of $100 dollars and features a cast of Smith and his friends. The film's characters revel in a stylised orgy of exotic costumes and set-ups, reminiscent of an earlier period of commercial B-movie; the film evokes an eruption of repressed (cinematic) desires. Smith had begun work in New York in the 1950s as a still photographer and often his photographs took the form of elaborated film stills evoking the films of Maria Montez (star of Arabian Nights (1942) and Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves (1944) and Smith's favourite B-Movie star).

In the years following, Smith who had earned little financially from the notoriety of Flaming Creatures as a banned/censored work, came to resent Jonas Mekas for championing the film as a kind of case study as he felt that his subsequent films like Normal Love (1963) and No President (1968) were overshadowed by the campaign surrounding Flaming Creatures.

James Harding

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Stills from Flaming Creatures

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