Escape From Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith



                                                                A Film Essay by Jerry Tartaglia, 2017,  DV,   88 minutes.

About the film


“I call it a ‘Film Essay,’ but it’s really a non-documentary film document that gives Jack Smith the chance to be heard without the intervention of talking heads, critics, and had-been friends.”  (JT)


For more than twenty years, Jerry Tartaglia worked on restoring, preserving and exhibiting the film legacy of Jack Smith. His work as restorer, done with the support of Jack’s friends, The Plaster Foundation, and The Gladstone Gallery, has made it possible for Smith's films to be available for future generations.


Now, having completed that work, Tartaglia has created a Film Essay that consists of twenty-one short illustrations of Smith’s Aesthetic and Political principles including Capitalism, Glitter, Performance, Chance, Boredom, Thievery, Injustice, and Maria Montez.


“Jack Smith left behind a cache of audio recordings that he made in the 1970s, 80s, and earlier, in which he reveals much about his ideas of artmaking, Cinema, politics, and life. Some of the recordings are solo readings of his published writings while others are documentations of his ‘Live Film’ performances. Some are recordings that document rehearsals for his films and others are impromptu recitations on a theme.


These recordings have been made available to me by the owner of the Jack Smith Archive, The Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, for use in my film Escape From Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith.


I’ve culled the most daring and engaging of these recordings with images from his films and photography that exemplify or illustrate his ideas.  The unique feature of the film is that there are no “talking head” interviews with anyone.  The only spokesperson for Jack Smith is Jack himself! ”(JT)


 View a short clip from the film by going here.


About Jack Smith


Jack Smith was one of the most accomplished and influential underground artists in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and a key figure in the cultural history of film, performance, photography and art in America.


From the late 1950s until his death from A.I.D.S. related disease in 1989, Smith was chiefly recognized for his work in film and performance.


Beneath the glitter and the camp in his films, photographs, and performance art (which he called LIVE FILM Performances) there lurks a biting political satire; an irony born from the alienated sensibility of a Queer American artist. He liberated Cinema from the straight-jacket of "good" technique and "appropriate" behavior. 


His best known film, Flaming Creatures (1963), became the subject of a protracted legal battle over its alleged pornographic content. The controversy marked a pivotal moment for Jack. He shot and edited his next film, Normal Love, which is arguably a masterpiece of underground cinema, in the conventional way. But thereafter, beginning in the 1970s, his films—until then screened under typical viewing conditions—were incorporated into his LIVE FILM Performances with film, slides and music from his vinyl LP collection.


During these performances he would re-edit and splice his film material using ordinary masking tape which, years later, had to be repaired and removed for the restoration.


These LIVE FILM events were spun from his imagination and memory of the faded tinsel, tarnished glamour, and decrepit sets of 1930s and 40s Hollywood movies.  Smith developed an elaborate fantasy universe in which Manhattan became “Rented Island,” museums were mausoleums, and Maria Montez of Technicolor fame, was glorified as the penultimate Cinema star.  His performances bore the titles of such exoticism as Secret of Rented Island, I Danced With A Penguin, and Hamlet In The Rented World.  They transverse the boundaries between Smith’s impoverished life in the Lower East Side of New York, and the imaginative world of his own creation.


That Jack Smith was able to produce his work with virtually no financial support and even less notoriety before his life was cut short by HIV related disease in 1989 remains a testament to his perseverance, vision and genius.