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Smith's outsized creative persona (which director Ken Jacobs also documented in his films Little Stabs at Happiness and Star Spangled to Death) suggested an ever-erupting id, emboldened by the art-making process to express every impulse that came into his head. This spirit may be best represented by the extended orgy sequence of Flaming Creatures, a pansexual dream so unbound by social taboos that it seems innocent rather than perverse. Nonetheless, the film caused a scandal when it was first premiered—as Phillips notes on the South Side Projections website, Jonas Mekas (a great avant-garde filmmaker in his own right) was briefly imprisoned for screening it.
It would be unjust to reduce the film to its sexual content, as Smith’s fantasies encompassed a lot more than sexuality. Flaming Creatures is also a glorious portrait of cinephilia: Smith described the film as a tribute to B-movie actress Maria Montez (whose 1944 vehicle Cobra Woman influenced yet another major avant-garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger) and the bric-a-brac that fills many of the frames suggests a home-movie remake of a 30s Hollywood spectacle. This would explain the film’s lasting influence on Guy Maddin, whose old-movie pastiches convey a similar transformation of mass entertainment into private dream.