Jack Smith & Andy Warhol’s Batman Dracula The Uncompleted, Unseen Camp/Trash Superstar Revue Featuring a Live Soundscape by Rick Reed & Nayantara (Tara) Bhattacharya. PLUS other rare shorts!
Back in 1964, Andy Warhol was still operating below ground level as a successful pop painter and was only just beginning his second career as a filmmaker. He owed his burgeoning cinema aesthetic largely to the pioneering camp-trash efforts of Jack Smith. Smith was one of many Warhol friends and associates (including Kenneth Anger, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jonas Mekas) who had battled the censors of the era and paved the way for the relative public acceptance of Warhol’s own forthcoming edgy film works. Flaming Creatures, Smith’s incendiary orgiastic romp of disaffected urban queer culture, became a notorious cause célèbre upon release in 1963. Prints of the “obscene” film were consistently seized by the police, theaters that showed it were shuttered, and scene maker Jonas Mekas was jailed for exhibiting it.
Ever seeking notoriety himself, Warhol was paying close attention to all this and began collaborating with Smith on a series of film projects. Legend has it that Andy once said to Jack, “You’re MGM, and I’m just Warner Brothers,” implying that Smith’s works, rather than his own, were the true epics of the new American underground cinema.
The second film Warhol ever shot was in fact a behind-the-scenes “newsreel” of Smith making his own films. Excited by what he was seeing at the avant-garde screenings organized by Mekas around town-the works of Ron Rice, Ken Jacobs, Marie Menken, and Smith, among others- Warhol shrewdly began to cultivate an underground pantheon of “Superstars” culled from the actors appearing in Smith’s films and bizarre live performances, and Andy soon approached Jack with an offer of collaborating on a feature-length project. The proposed film was to be called Batman Dracula and footage was shot throughout 1964, featuring a veritable who’s who of the era’s subterranean superstars. Along with his Factory assistants Philip Fagan, Gerard Malanga, and Billy Name, the Smith-Warhol production comprised a camp-trash superstar review of the crème-de-la-crème of the New York performance underground, including Beverly Grant, Baby Jane Holzer, Sally Kirkland, Naomi Levine, Taylor Mead, and Mario Montez, along with blasé and outré appearances by the co-auteurs themselves.
Ultimately, Andy refused to ever edit or release the film, although some of the footage was incorporated into other Warhol film projects and projected at his art exhibits, while stills from the shoot were also used as a backdrop in a 1964 LIFE Magazine fashion spread. Smith lamented that Batman Dracula contained his finest performance, and a rift arose between the two artists that seems to have never been resolved. Perhaps Warhol had received whatever filmmaking mentoring from Smith he desired and no longer wanted anyone else’s name attached to his projects. At the same moment he was finally conquering the world of fine art, Warhol would soon become the most famous and arguably the last of the New York experimental filmmakers of the 1960s, while Smith remained an obscure underground curiosity throughout his life, admired and feared by the local artistic community, but largely unknown outside of it.
Thankfully, history has begun to catch up with and take notice of Jack Smith, his influence, and his cultural legacy. A true polymath, Smith’s work encompassed still photography, performance art, fiction, poetry, film theory, assemblage art, set and costume design, make-up wizardry and much more. He was perhaps the central figure of the midcentury New York queer underground and seems to have influenced- and ultimately alienated- everyone he ever worked with.The Batman Dracula footage languished in Warhol’s archives for four decades, never reviewed or restored. It was eventually edited into an imagining of what Smith and Warhol might have intended. Other than occasional runs at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, this special ERC presentation at the Alamo is only the second time the film has been publicly screened.
~ Philip R. Fagan, ERCATX
Featured Musicians:Rick Reed (b. 1957) has been creating audio compositions since 1982. His recent works are intuitive studies of electricity, frequency fluctuations, and improvised ‘on the fly’ solutions to symmetry problems in electronic sound. Over the past decade he has centered his live work on using short wave radio, synthesizers, and sine wave generators to create otherworldly synthetic sounds with a surface of aesthetic elegance and beauty. Reed lives in Austin, Texas, and has performed throughout the United States and Europe. His music has been used by filmmaker Ken Jacobs in three of his experiential magic lantern films, Spiral Nebula, Mountaineer Spinning, Capitalism: Child Labor. In addition to his solo work, he’s been a member of Austin groups such as Fear and Tension Corporation, The Abrasion Ensemble, Frequency Curtain, SIRSIT, as well as international group, The Voltage Spooks (w/ Keith Rowe). Along with Brent Fariss, he is currently a member of the world’s only CM von Hausswolff cover band in existence, The House of Wolves. You can hear his work on such records as Dreamz/BluePolz, The Way Things Go, and Dark Skies at Noon, to name but a few.
Nayantara (Tara) Bhattacharya is film curator at Experimental Response Cinema in Austin,TX and director of Antumbrae Intermedia Events + Installations, a sound and new media organization in Austin, TX and an international audiovisual artist.Her alma mater is Hunter College, City University of New York where she graduated with a degree in Art History and Asian American Studies. Her musical oeuvre encompasses a wide variety of different genres including improvisation, electronic composition, chamber music, indian classical music and Bengali folk songs. Past performances include a live sound composition/ art performance piece at The Blanton Museum as part of Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, an experimental music concert at New York’s Secret Project Robot with venerable60’s filmmaker Ken Jacobs, psychedelic pop group diNMachine, and Foetus’ JG Thirlwell, plus, participating in 844 Souls Under The Seas: The Eastland Disaster Centennial Memorial, a multimedia art performance at Chicago’s National Bohemian Cemetery. She has screened her work in India and the US most recently for Screen Compositions at Experimental Intermedia in NYC. Musical performances in 2016 have also included Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland at Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, Switzerland and performed in Austin, TX in filmmaker Ken Jacobs’ Nervous Magic Lantern performance.
Thanks to the Warhol Museum, Geralyn Huxley, and Greg Pearce for making this extremely rare screening of Batman Dracula possible. Also thanks to the Blanton Museum for providing passes to their current Andy Warhol exhibit.
Screens with: Factory Film (Philip N. Fagan, 1964, 2 minutes). Jittery, single-frame “Screen Test”compositions featuring the actors from Batman Dracula and other NYC underground luminaries shot during a party at Warhol’s Factory.
Philip’s Shadow (D: Philip R. Fagan, 2009, 20 minutes), an extended trailer highlighting the life of Philip Norman Fagan, one of the featured players in Batman Dracula.