Abrons Arts Center
Curated by Bradford Nordeen
“Geef me that Coparah chewel!” The ravishing queen of Technicolor gave her fourth and perhaps most memorable performance in the Universal camp classic Cobra Woman. Alongside regular costars Jon Hall and Sabu, Maria Montez plays a dual role, as twin sisters separated at birth. Benevolent sister Tullea, is kidnapped on her wedding night and whisked away to Cobra Island in the hopes that she might dethrone the maniacal Naja, who terrifies the townfolk with pagan rituals in honor of their god, the giant serpent, King Cobra. The Montez Universal features (six fantasy tales ranging from Arabian deserts to Hawaiian isles) have often been observed as early camp texts which inspired children growing up gay in the forties to play-act and identify with Montez, who, in her vibrant vanity, represented a figure of excess and excite – a fantasy creature in plaster playlands that almost seemed to give birth to her own desires. One such child was Jack Smith, whose ‘The Perfect Film Appositeness of Maria Montez’ is a widely read text, and whose Jungle Island is perhaps the artist’s closest approximation of a Montez fantasy isle. Starring Smith superstar Mario Montez.
Robert Siodmak’s directorial debut was the famous Berlin film Menschen am Sonntag (1930), which establishes him as serious filmmaker. Forced into exile, Siodmak transitioned into the Hollywood studio system. A collaboration with his brother, Curt, on Son of Dracula (1943) scored the director popular and critical success. But it is with the three films made for Universal following Cobra Woman that Siodmak established himself as the master of noir: Phantom Lady (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1945), and The Killers (1946). Upon returning to Germany, he tried to build on his Hollywood and Weimar reputation. Siodmak concluded his long career with Karl May adaptations and the monumental Kampf um Rom (1968).
Vanguard Filmmaker, radical photographer, seminal performance artist, Queer saint: the late Jack Smith maintained an intense, lifelong rapture conjured out of the frayed magic and glamour of a Hollywood that had come to camp out on the movie set of his own mind. The externalization of that tarnished magic and glamour, which obsessed him, enabled him to both exoticize and humanize a conservative American culture enamored with progress and bruised in its formation by economic speculation and cold war. Smith was one of the most accomplished and influential underground artists in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, a key figure in the cultural history of Downtown film, performance, and art. From the late 1950s until his death from AIDS in 1989, Smith was chiefly recognized for his work in film and performance. Innovative and idiosyncratic, Smith explored and developed a deceptively frivolous camp aesthetic, importing allusions to B-Grade Hollywood films and elements of social and political critique into the arena of high art. Less celebrated than the many people he inspired, Smith's multi-media influence is evident in the works of a broad segment of the American Avant Garde.
The Abrons Arts Center brings innovative artistic excellence to Manhattan’s Lower East Side through diverse, cutting-edge performances; exhibitions/artist residencies; classes and workshops for all ages, including pre-professional training for youth; and arts-in-education programming at public schools. The center is located mere blocks from the former Windsor Theater (now a Rite Aid), the rooftop of which served as the set for Jack Smith’s infamous Flaming Creatures.
466 Grand St.
New York, New York 10002
United States of America