José Sarmiento of the 2014 Talent Press reviews a retrospective of Jack Smith's unreleased material, which featured in the Berlinale Forum Expanded.

Jack Smith's short films

Trying to explain in a word an experience which goes beyond expectations would be an impossible task for a reviewer. But I will use (and abuse) the term “surprise”, because that’s exactly what this retrospective of Jack Smith's unreleased material was: not only did Jerry Tattaglia do a fantastic job curating the reels Jack had left behind; the images were vibrant in colour, with a breath of new life infused not only by the restoration but by avant-garde composer John Zorn, who set two of the short films to music using LPs from Jack Smith's own collection. Filmmakers, Ken and Flo Jacobs were also there, sharing their memories of the late Smith.

The programme of Berlinale Forum Expanded, dedicated to drag performer Mario Montez (famous for his role in Smith’s own FLAMING CREATURES and in Andy Warhol’s films), attracted a vibrant, full-house and an emotional reception. There was respect and admiration for the man so highly regarded (and defended) by many intellectuals in his time (it was Susan Sontag, who said Smith helped break the taboo between sexuality, censorship and high art). And today, the effort and resilience of those involved in this huge project was still obvious.

Five shorts were shown, and their titles were equally surprising: MILK BATH SCENE FROM NORMAL LOVE, BOILED LOBSTER OF LUCKY LANDLADY LAGOON, IN THE GRIP OF THE LOBSTER, EXOTIC LANDLORDLISM and OVERSTIMULATED. Psychedelic experiences, avant-garde gestures, filmed performances overloaded with eroticism and sexuality, and much more, defy categorization. To quote Sontag again: "in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art" and it’s exactly what being a part of the Jack Smith experience is about: pure unadulterated sensuality and sexual mysticism. And Mario Montez shines with all his power, as the diva Jack Smith needed to perform in his bizarre world.

Few experiences on film will carry such emotion for a cinephile, and this one in particular will certainly remain in the memory. Surprise indeed: Jack has popped out of the box, again.