film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Blonde Cobra (1963)

This film baffled me in two different ways.

It baffled me in and of itself. It’s a short experimental work, of the same ilk as the earlier Flaming Creatures – meandering, stream-of-consciousness snippets of a couple people in costumes, non-sequitur voiceovers, and snippets of old music. Jack Smith, who was in turn Flaming Creatures’ director, is the main performer here, although “performer” is a bit inaccurate; he doesn’t seem to “perform” so much as seems to just “do stuff”. He tries on dresses and hats. He mugs at the camera. He uses a chicken carcass as a puppet. He rigs a curtain up around a corner of the room and pretends to be a fortune teller. He pretends to eat a floor tile. He draws or writes things on a pad of paper and sometimes holds them up, pointing at them with an eager grin. Once or twice another man wanders into the shot and Smith pulls him into the fray. Sometimes the screen goes black entirely. And over all this, Smith’s voice keeps up a running stream-of-consciousness monologue, ping-ponging from personal anecdotes to quoting Greta Garbo to spinning a tale about nuns in an irreverent convent. The narration doesn’t match the action, and none of it makes any coherent sense.

The other reason this baffled me is – I wasn’t bothered by this the way Flaming Creatures bothered me. I wasn’t a fan, either, but….at the end I was surprised to find myself a tiny bit charmed by this film. Even though the narration gets pretty risque – Smith talks about things that qualify as sadism, necrophilia, or group sex in places – and even though Smith spends most of the film in drag, it felt strangely innocent.

Actually, comparing this to Flaming Creatures may be a good way to illustrate why. Both films looks like they were made by people trying to shock their audiences – but for Flaming Creatures, it felt like Smith was being more calculating. He specifically chose performers and set up specific shots so as to deliberately shock his audience; he wanted them uncomfortable, he wanted their buttons pushed. But Blonde Cobra felt more like a spontaneous thing director Ken Jacobs made while hanging out with Smith one day; “I’ll just run the camera, do whatever you want.”

That may have been what gives it that innocence for me. It looks like the goofy stuff that a bunch of 14-year-olds would make if one of them got a videocamera for their birthday and they were all bored; silly costumes, shakey camerawork, and technical hiccups galore. True, some such kids would immediately start writing a screenplay and their handiwork would have linear plots and dialogue and some rudimentary special effects, but most such kids would simply turn the camera on and point it at things, taking turns dropping one of-the-moment reference or another and people jumping in front of the camera whenever they got an idea for something to do or say. There would be that one kid who thinks of really edgy stuff to say that would make everyone laugh because dudes, our parents would freak if they heard us say that. There would be the occasional music break – either a popular song everyone knew now or something old and corny that was cracking everyone up at the moment because they’d caught their mom playing it and it was so dumb. One kid would slather makeup all over his face and put on one of his grandma’s dresses and it would be hysterical that he actually let them film him like that. There would be in-jokes that would only make sense to the kids involved and would be incomprehensible to anyone else.

None of what I’ve described is anything like how this film was actually made; on the contrary, Jacobs made it as a sort of homage to a 1940’s cult film called Cobra Woman. It completely fails in that respect, from what I can see – but its seat-of-the-pants, let’s-just-fool-around style endeared me on its own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s