Normal Love

Jack Smith

USA, 1963 - 1965
120 minutes, Colour, Separate CD
Original format: 16mm film
Available formats: 16mm

Backed by Jonas Mekas , Jack Smith embarked on a “commercial” follow-up to Flaming Creatures in mid 1963: “I spent my summer out in the country shooting a lovely, pasty, pink and green color movie that is going to be the definitive pasty expression. All the characters wear pink evening gowns and smirk and stare into the camera.” The Great Pasty Triumph, known briefly as The Pink and Green Horrors and eventually retitled Normal Love, was very much a film of its season. With the exception of several scenes staged around the Moon Pool, a candle-lit, incense-shrouded, mirror-strewn altar to Maria Montez , which Smith had assembled in the midst of an East Village apartment, it was strictly back to nature – shot variously in rural New Jersey, on Fire Island, in Queens, and at Old Lyme, Connecticut. The dominant colors are pink and green – fittingly, one scene is a ceremonial watermelon feast. “Rubens. Arabian Nights. Chinese Masters. Monet,” Jonas Mekas rhapsodized after seeing the first rushes. In fact, Normal Love suggests a pastoral, pastel-colored conflation of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, I Walked with a Zombie, The Mummy’s Hand, and The Spider Woman; for Smith’s fellow Montez-enthusiast Ronald Travel, Normal Love was a work that obviously drew “its look, its feel, its colors, images, and backyard fairy moth sheen directly from White Savage.”

Normal Love is sumptuous but static – in part because Smith never completed editing it. Rather, he exhibited Normal Love rushes and rough cuts through 1965, and thereafter showed excerpts in various combination with different sorts of exotic musical accompaniment as a projection-performance piece. Thus, like Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished Que Viva Mexico and various Orson Welles projects, Normal Love’s extant 135 minutes can only exist as a presentation of footage. The notes that Smith prepared for Tony Conrad’s never-completed soundtrack refer to six distinct sequences: the Swamp Sequence, the Blue Scene in which comatose creatures in pink gowns lounge around the faux classical sculptures, the leafy darkness of the lengthy Green Scene, the bucolic Party Scene – shot in a cow pasture – and the famous Cake Scene. Smith’s chronology ends with the Mongolian Child moving down the cast with a toy machine-gun but Normal Love includes one further sequence, referred to in Smith’s notes as the Yellow Sequence. Here, Francis Francine mimes dying in a field of golden-rod as Tiny Tim perches on an abandoned car, plucking his plastic ukulele.

Jerry Tartaglia’s restoration makes use of selections from Smith’s record collection – many of them used during his various in-person presentations of the footage. Smith’s sometime projection of the material, shot at 24 fps, at the slower silent speed (16 fps), as well his penchant for lengthy real changes and other projection breakdowns – not to mention the subjective, perhaps pharmaceutically-enhanced state of the audience – likely accounts for descriptions of the movie as a four-hour epic. (J. Hoberman )