Underground Opulence

total running time c.130min (with a short break in between)

All silent films in the programme accompanied by music from Stephen Horne.

Bursting with colour, this programme reconnects the avant-garde queer sensibility of the underground film not with its literal inspirations (Hollywood icons such as Alla Nazimova, Marlene Dietrich or Maria Montez) but rather with some genres in early film which, with their ornamental costumes and decor, anticipate some of the richness of the underground's camp aestheticism.

Tit for Tat (La Peine du talion)

France 1906. Dir Gaston Velle, Pathé Frères.

Gloriously winged insects seek revenge for the injustices brought about by the popular practice of lepidoptery: the catching of butterflies and moths for the purpose of scientific observation. Velle’s richly coloured film is one of the finest examples of its kind.

Metempsychosis (Métempsycose)

France 1907. Dir Segundo de Chomón, Pathé Frères

The special effects pioneer Segundo de Chomón reinterprets for the camera a famous stage illusion that featured a metamorphosis from one object (or person) into another. Here a statue turns into a butterfly fairy who performs a number of dazzling costume transformations that are a feast for the eyes.

Puce Moment

USA 1949. Dir Kenneth Anger. With Yvonne Marquis. Costumes Kenneth Anger.

Puce Moment is a fragment filmed in 1949 and later edited by Anger himself into a stand-alone piece. It was initially conceived as feature-length film Puce Women, and was to be Anger’s tribute to the mythological Hollywood of the Jazz Age and the perversely luxurious tastes and lifestyles of female sirens such as Mae Murray, Barbara La Marr, Marion Davies and Gloria Swanson (some of which are described in his exposé Hollywood Babylon). Referring to the purple-green iridescent colour of 1920s flapper gowns, Anger’s mood sketch evokes the archetypal moment of a film star’s dressing up. It is a dizzying parade of vintage gowns: their beading, sequins and embroidery shimmer aggressively in front of the camera, taking up entire film frames. These near-abstract images are juxtaposed with close-ups of Yvonne Marquis referencing classic Hollywood glamour.

The Pearl Fisher (Le pêcheur de perles)

France 1907. Dir Ferdinand Zecca. Pathé Frères.

A diver encounters strange and marvellous creatures in an underwater kingdom. The final apotheosis sequence boasts remarkable sets festooned with strings of pearls that recall Melies’s Orientalist décors for The Palace of Arabian Nights (1905).

Normal Love

USA 1963. Dir Jack Smith. With Diana Baccus, Mario Montez, Beverly Grant. Costumes Jack Smith and actors.

After completing Flaming Creatures, Smith shot the more ambitious Normal Love in dazzling colour, with elaborate sets (including a Busby Berkeley-esque multi-tiered cake made by Claes Oldenburg), and costumes inspired by horror films and Maria Montez epics. Smith cast poets, artists, and actors from the New York underground scene, including Mario Montez as the Mermaid, Beverly Grant as the Cobra Woman, plus Andy Warhol and a very pregnant Beat poet Diane di Prima as chorus dancers on Oldenburg’s cake. Smith never finished editing a definitive version of the film, but what remains wonderfully illustrates his visionary appropriation of Hollywood sensuality and excess. This is a fantastic opportunity to see a brand new print of Normal Love!

Tate Modern Friday 03 Dec 2010, 18:30