MARC SIEGEL / Call Me Mario Montez[1]

 

 

 «Gerard Malanga: Who is your greatest super star?

Jack Smith: Mario.

Gerard Malanga: Why?

Jack Smith: Because he immediately enlists the sympathy of the audience»[2].

 

 

Mario Montez was the great drag Superstar who reigned over the New York underground film and theater scene from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s. In 1977, Montez quietly disappeared from the public eye, and his whereabouts remained a mystery to scholars and most of his former colleagues and friends for almost thirty years. In 2006, he resurfaced momentarily for an appearance in Mary Jordan's documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. The return of Mario Montez, once again on screen in drag, alongside his longtime friend, performer Agosto Machado, would seem to have warranted a documentary of its own. It wasn't until 2009, however, that Montez at the age of 74 finally made the commitment to cultivate once again his public persona and pursue stage, film, and modeling work. He made a number of public appearances and granted interviews at festivals, universities, and retrospectives in Berlin, Frankfurt, New York City and Wroclaw until his death at age 78 on September 26, 2013[3].

 

I was fortunate enough to have been able to facilitate most of Montez's recent appearances and to conduct many interviews with him since his return to the public eye. I naturally took advantage of these discussions to inquire about the inherited wisdom about the Superstar. Montez had only agreed to a few interviews during his roughly fifteen years of continuous work in film and theater, so there was very little available—and reliable—information about him[4]. The existing accounts in the film and theater literature tend more toward half-truths, projections, and whimsy than accurate representations of Montez’s real-life experiences and perspectives. In what follows, I provide a brief summary of Montez's career with the main goal of highlighting the development of his performance identity. At the same time, I hope to suggest the scope of this unique artist's involvement in and contribution to the 1960s and '70s underground art scenes and to clarify some of the myths and falsehoods about Montez and his work that emerged in the absence of his own account. Montez's reappearance in the final years of his life afforded him the opportunity to weigh in on the body of writing about him and his work that emerged over the last four decades. While Montez's recent memories were certainly as selective and partial as anyone's, they nevertheless brought clearly into focus a dynamic image of an ever-evolving performer variously involved in the queer, film, and theater subcultures of his day. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this essay are from my discussions with Montez[5].

 

 

Dolores Flores (Rene Rivera) in Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1962-63).

Courtesy Arsenal Institute for Film und Video Art, Berlin

Copyright Jack Smith Archive and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

 

Mario Montez was born as Rene Rivera in Ponce, Puerto Rico on July 20, 1935. When he was nine years old, his family relocated to the United States. “My father had left us six months earlier to get a job and an apartment in New York City. He got a job with the city doing pipe maintenance for the water works”. Rene lived with three younger siblings and his parents in El Barrio, on East 111 Street between Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue. Throughout his childhood, he was the family photographer, taking hundreds of photos of family members and gatherings over the years. He attended the New York School of Printing to study graphic arts and graduated in 1954. “Then I worked as an apprentice in a shop in Manhattan for about six months. And then I quit…It was too messy, cleaning up. I didn't mind setting up the tiles. But you had to clean your own press. Ew!”. He went on to work as a photo finisher and shipping clerk before finding regular work as an office clerk. Contrary to many published accounts about his life, Rivera never worked for the post office, “maybe just one year for Christmas when they needed extra help”.

 

While cruising in Union Square in the early 1960s, he connected with an African American man named Reese Haire who introduced him to Jack Smith. Haire was a model in a number of Smith's early photo sessions and also appeared in Scotch Tape (Jack Smith, 1959-62), as well as Ken Jacobs's Star Spangled to Death (1956-60/2001-04), the film that Smith was working on when he borrowed Jacobs's camera to shoot Scotch Tape. Haire and Rivera took free ballet courses together through a program for low-income residents and Rivera became more thoroughly involved in Jack Smith's orbit as his photo model, collaborator, lover and, eventually, his temporary roommate. Prior to meeting Smith, Rivera had never performed in drag or experimented with female costumes, even as a child. It is therefore perhaps all the more surprising that for one of their very first photo shoots, Rivera suggested to Smith that he appear in female costume. As he recalled,

 

I don't think Jack was expecting me to be a female. But I suggested it to him. At that point they were releasing Cleopatra [Joseph Mankiewicz, 1963] with Elizabeth Taylor. And there were these wide-screen posters in the subways in New York City. (I stole one. I used to steal posters and things like that.) I said, “Jack, why don't we do a version of Cleopatra. And we'll title it 'Cleo Pot Roast”. So I made a costume in a hurry and a headpiece. He took shots, with his Rolleicord camera…But that's all we did. We never filmed Cleopatra. He didn't want to. He wasn't into that. He was pleasing me with [the photo][6].

 

In the summer and fall of 1962, Rivera joined Smith and his friends on the roof of the Windsor Theater for a few of the weekend film shoots for Flaming Creatures. In his striking screen debut, Rivera appears towards the end of the film as The Spanish Lady, a dancer who, clad in a black dress, was reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich in The Devil Is a Woman (Josef von Sternberg, 1935), fluttering a fan and moving seductively with a plastic flower between his lips. Having not yet created the performance identity Mario Montez, Rivera agreed with Smith's choice of the name Dolores Flores for the film's credits. «“He had different names” and then he said, “Well, what about Dolores Flores”. I think the reason he chose it was because he used to like the recordings of Lola Flores from Spain». On one of the shooting days when Rivera was away at work, Smith clothed someone else in his dress and black wig and shot some of the Busby Berkeley-esque overhead shots in the final dance sequence with this Spanish Lady stand-in. For aficionados, this explains why the controlled, graceful movements of Rivera's character in other shots suddenly acquire a dangerously chaotic quality in the overhead shots[7].

 

Rivera's involvement in Flaming Creatures extended beyond his admittedly brief appearance in the film's final section. He also supplied one of the overenunciating voices for the mock radio advertisement in the smirching or lipstick sequence– “I was trying to pronounce the English perfectly” – and some of the shrieks on the recording of earthquake screams. The recordings for the film were made by musician Tony Conrad, who was Smith's roommate at the time and the person responsible for compiling (and composing) the film's soundtrack. In the fall of 1962, Conrad and Smith were living in an apartment building at 56 Ludlow Street on New York's Lower East Side, where Angus MacLise and Kate and Piero Heliczer also lived. Rivera moved in when an apartment became available. Smith, Conrad, and Rivera soon began spending evenings together staging impromptu recording sessions, which often included other friends like MacLise. As Conrad recalls,

  

Jack sort of dominated situations. If you gave him a chance, then it was his scene. And it didn't take much. Suddenly there would be a Bagdadian moment and there would be a Tangier fantasy. So we recorded some of these. Jack would invite Mario to come upstairs and [he] would bring some clothes or put something on. That would take only a few hours. We would adjust the lights…My job was usually controlling the recordings and playing the music. I would get the 78s in a row, turn on the tape recorder. We loved recording[8].

 

In addition to the film and photo sessions with Smith, these informal, yet costumed and lighted performances for Conrad's tape recorder attest to Rivera's growing artistic and personal involvement in Smith's bohemian scene. Moreover, such staged and impromptu performances enabled Rivera to hone the performance identity that blossomed in the coming years as Mario Montez. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Conrad's recording titled The First Memoirs of Maria Montez dated February 24, 1963, in which Smith tells a hilariously morbid story about a melancholic Universal Studios digging up the corpse of their glamorous 1940s star from the Dominican Republic, “who brought them gilded profits during the war years”, in order to make a new film directed by «Jack Smith, the raging movie director»[9]. Smith plays various characters throughout the recording's twenty-two minutes, including that of a Maria Montez fan and a hysterical reporter, while Rivera, of course, assumes the part of the 1940s star herself. As Maria Montez, Rivera riffs on lines from the star's films and interviews (“Whenever I look into the mirror, I just scream with joy. I am so beautiful. Even though I use Helena Rubenstein's makeup, I am still beautiful”) and improvises a hilarious discussion in character with Smith (“I love your pearls dear”. “My purls…”).

 

 

 Mario Montez and Diana Baccus in Normal Love (Jack Smith, 1963-65). Frame Grab. 

Copyright Jack Smith Archive and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

 

If these private performances for Conrad's tape recorder paved the way for the invention of Mario Montez's persona, his public coming out, of sorts, occurred in the context of the shooting of Smith's Normal Love (1963-65) and Ron Rice's Chumlum in the summer of 1963. Chumlum was filmed predominantly in Rice's Manhattan apartment, where Smith, Montez, Beverly Grant, and the other performers from Normal Love would often gather to clown around after their daytime shoots in the swamps of New Jersey. In both of these films, Rivera is credited for the first time as Mario Montez. «I said [to Jack Smith], “We need to think of a name. Because I worship Maria Montez and you do too, why not just change the a to an o and call me Mario Montez”, I like being known as Mario Montez, even though it's a male, but it doesn't matter to me». In addition to his captivating performance as the Mermaid in Smith's Normal Love, Montez makes a rare appearance as a man in one of the film's sequences. Clad only in pink ballerina tights, he pushes Diana Baccus on the swing and then prances around–displaying some dance moves Rivera learned at ballet lessons–while she and the creatures enjoy colorful beverages. Since Rice premiered Chumlum already in 1963 and Smith preferred to present Normal Love in stages, as part of his evolving format of live film performances, we might even refer to Rice's film as the first Mario Montez film[10]. Be that as it may, it was clearly the context of Rivera's steady close collaboration with Smith that led to the construction of this unique performance identity that Joan Adler describes as «the Rene version of Marilyn Monroe as Maria Montez »[11]. In 1969, Rivera told an interviewer that Mario Montez is «my drag name. It's in honor of Maria Montez, the famous actress…and I have Marilyn Monroe's initials; they are my idols, you might say»[12].

 

Smith's celebrated mobilization of his own Maria Montez worship for his artistic production obviously inspired others to do the same. Smith and Rivera's friend, writer Ronald Tavel, therefore might have been speaking for a whole generation of 1960s underground artists when he noted that

 

the importance of Smith for me is that he said, “Don't forget your childhood. Exploit it…Take all the childhood fears, anxieties, impressions, loves and all of that and use that for art”. That was a new idea. I would never mention Maria Montez in public before I met him, because that would seem like talking about a very private thing; it was nobody else's business. They wouldn't understand. And it was somewhat embarrassing too. In that way, he freed me up[13].

 

As with Tavel, Rivera's interest in Montez and other Hollywood stars, including Monroe and Hedy Lamarr, predated his first encounters with Smith. But it was not until he began collaborating with the artist on shooting sessions, performances, films, and audio recordings that he discovered the means of constructing out of his star worship both a performance identity and a sense of self. In 2012, Montez stated clearly, “I owe everything to him. Without Jack Smith I wouldn't be here today”.

 

That said, Montez, in turn, was obviously quite central to Smith's work and aesthetic vision throughout the 1960s and early '70s. The artist's writings and notes are littered with references to and ideas for projects with Montez. In addition to his roles in Flaming Creatures and Normal Love, Montez performed in such Smith films and film fragments as the recently restored In the Grip of the Lobster (1966), Reefers of Technicolor Island/Jungle Island (1967), and No President (1967-70). Montez also appeared in a number of Smith’s live performances, most likely beginning with Rehearsal for the Destruction of Atlantis (1965). Furthermore, he modelled for numerous photo shoots and slide shows for about a decade, beginning in the early '60s. According to Tavel, Jack Smith claimed that Montez «never took a bad picture. His concentration was complete and a legible, specific idea arranges his features in every print which survives today»[14]. Although Smith worked across media with a varied and changing stable of performers in the '60s–Superstars of Cinemaroc, he called them–which included Marian Zazeela, Beverly Grant, Francis Francine, Joel Markman, Arnold Rockwood, and Irving Rosenthal, it was Montez who came to epitomize the artist's aesthetic vision. A New York Puerto Rican performer whose drag identity paid homage to the Dominican star of Hollywood's orientalist '40s fantasy films, Montez both embodied and anchored Smith's exoticist and tropicalist investments. Smith's tropicalism, as Juan Suárez convincingly argues, embraces difference within contemporary New York City and also projects difference onto an unspecified, vaguely other time and space–one filtered through Latino cultures[15]. Both Montezes then–Maria and Mario–seemed to function for Smith as prime catalysts for conceiving and proliferating his tropicalist vision[16].

 



Mario Montez in Ronald Tavel's 1965 play The Life of Juanita Castro during the festival LIVE FILM! JACK SMITH! Five Flaming Days in a Rented World at HAU1, Berlin, October 30, 2009. Also pictured (from left to right): Diedrich Diederichsen (Raul), Bruce LaBruce (Che), Rainald Goetz (Director), and Bibbe Hansen (Fidel). Appearing as Extras (from left to right): Marie Losier, Susanne Sachsse, Tim Blue, Marc Siegel, Oliver Husain, Herbert Gschwind, Heide Schlüpmann, and Matthias Haase. Photograph by Andrea Novarin.

 

 

While there is no denying that Smith's Maria Montez worship nourished and inspired his artistic collaborators, Rivera's own–lesser-known–fan practices were crucially important not only for Smith's work but also for that of many others in the New York underground film and theater scene. For example, in the late 1950s or early '60s, Montez bought mail-order, reel-to-reel sound-recording equipment and jerry-rigged his television set so that he could record soundtracks from the movies that played on TV, including beloved films by Maria Montez, such as Arabian Nights (John Rawlins, 1942) and Cobra Woman (Robert Siodmak, 1944), and 1930s musicals such as Hollywood Hotel (Busby Berkeley, 1937). These well over a hundred soundtracks provided many a pleasureable evening for Montez and his friends throughout the 1960s who, in lieu of frequent opportunities to see the films, would gather in Montez's apartment to listen to them. Montez's recorded film soundtracks were an important source of inspiration for his and Smith's work in film and performance, as well as Charles Ludlam's later work in theater. Not only did these artists lift bits of dialogue from Maria Montez films for use in their work, but they also occasionally directly appropriated excerpts from these recordings for their own film and performance soundtracks[17]. It was likely Montez's recordings of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (Arthur Lubin, 1944) and The Devil Is a Woman that Tony Conrad borrowed for use in the soundtrack to Flaming Creatures. Furthermore, the dialogue in Ludlam's first play, Big Hotel (1967), are substantially borrowed from other sources, including Hollywood Hotel and Cobra Woman, the soundtracks of which he accessed through Montez.

 

In the summer of 1964, Montez appeared with Smith on Andy Warhol’s unfinished, over-five-hour film Batman Dracula[18].Later that year, Montez starred as Jean Harlow in Warhol’s first sync-sound film, Harlot, and also appeared in Warhol's two Mario Banana short films, as well as his short Mario Montez Dances. Warhol noted, «Mario is very, very good and no one moves all the muscles in his face the way Mario does. He really knows what to do in front of a camera. He has an instinct for it»[19]. Montez quickly became one of Warhol’s most important screen personalities, with his appearance in Harlot inaugurating the star system in underground film[20]. Given the deserved attention directed towards the later celebrated transgender figures associated with Warhol (Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, and Holly Woodlawn)–it is important to recall that Mario Montez was the Factory’s first drag Superstar. His performances in Screen Test #2 (1965) and The Chelsea Girls (1966) cemented his underground and–increasingly–mainstream fame. As critic John Gruen noted in 1967 in the New York/World Journal Tribune, «In each film Mario becomes the unmistakeable center of attention»[21]. In 1965 and 1966, Montez appeared in a number of other Warhol films, as well, including Camp and More Milk Yvette (both 1965), Hedy, Ari and Mario, and Bufferin Commercial (all 1966). Despite Montez's centrality to lore about the diversity and eccentricity of the Warhol scene, he rarely socialized with the Factory crowd and solely came around to work on a film (usually accompanied by his close friends Smith or Tavel)[22]. He claimed that he didn't feel comfortable there because “they all had college educations”. Moreover, Montez felt distanced from the Warhol scene because he never took drugs. He tried pot only once: “But it made me cough and cough. And it made me lose track of time. So I said I would never touch it again…Who wants to lose track of time?” As he recalled: “I was never invited to these parties. I only went to one….Probably Jack Smith made me go and I went with him. That's where I met Jean Pierre Aumont, Maria Montez's husband. I didn't know he was there. Someone told me, probably Jack. I was surprised. So I went up to him and I said, “Oh, I'm sorry. You probably think I'm doing something bad with the image of your wife”. And he said to me, “It's alright, my boy, as long as you do that with your heart”.

 

Montez was one of the few in the bohemian underground arts scene to maintain a full-time day job throughout his entire performance career. Whereas many of the other creatures who appeared, for instance, in Smith's legendary photo shoots, which could last over ten hours and continue into the early morning, slept it off the next day, Rivera had to arrive punctually at his day job. Sometimes he would even go directly from the early-morning conclusion of a weekend shoot to the office. “Well, I took off the makeup and costume, went home, took a shower, and went to work at 9 o'clock”. In the late 1960s, Montez made extra money by working as a male model and regularly took out ads in the Village Voice to attract customers. All of this extra work was necessary because Montez received no payment at all for his many performances in underground film. In 1967, he claimed, «I could be happier if I didn't have a daytime job. I've so much to do for the filmmakers»[23].

 

Throughout the intense two-year period of making films with Warhol, Montez continued to collaborate regularly with Smith and other filmmakers. He appeared, for instance, in Dirt (Piero Heliczer, 1965), MM for MM (Bill Vehr, 1966), and Life, Death and Assumption of Lupe Velez (José Rodríquez Soltero, 1966). Montez considered fellow Puerto Rican artist Rodríguez Soltero's film, in which the Superstar gives a spectacular performance as Mexican silent-movie heroine Lupe Velez, one of his best films, “one of the really Hollywood type of films”. In 1968-69, Montez appeared in Face (Takahiko Iimura, 1968-69) as well as two films by Avery Willard, FlamingTwenties (1968) and Gypsy's Ball (1969). He also makes a special guest appearance in a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig with a fur wrap while being wheeled down the aisle in a French bath tub and singing “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend”, in The Queen (Frank Simon, 1968), a seminal documentary of a New York City drag pageant. In the early 1970s, the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica devoted a series of projects to Montez, including the Super 8 film Agripina é Roma Manhattan/Agrippina is Rome-Manhattan (1972)[24]. Oiticica dedicated a brief essay to the underground Superstar in which he coined the term “tropicamp” to characterize both Montez's drag persona and, in the words of Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, «a resistant element in the gradual commercialization of queer aesthetics at the time»[25].

 

In addition to his work on film, Montez also played a seminal role in the development of the Theatre of the Ridiculous, New York City's legendary innovative, gender-queer theater movement. He appeared in John Vaccaro’s productions of Ronald Tavel’s plays Screen TestThe Life of Lady Godiva and Indira Gandhi’s Daring Device (all 1966) and went on to become a central performer in Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, appearing in the company’s productions until the mid-1970s. Montez also performed in off-off Broadway stage plays, including Jackie Curtis’ Vain Victory (1971), Harvey Fierstein’s In Search of the Cobra Jewels (1972) and productions by the Hot Peaches. Throughout his performance career, Montez was known both for his creativity and skill with costume and makeup design and for his generosity in assisting fellow performers with their stage appearance. With his particular brand of thriftstore glamour–and his designs marketed under the imprint “Montez-Creations”– Montez contributed substantially to the aesthetics of 1960s and ‘70s underground film and theater in New York.

  

 

 Mario Montez as Cleopatra, Photograph by Jack Smith.

CD Cover of Tony Conrad, 56 Ludlow Street 1962-64

Volume 2: Jack Smith, Silent Shadows on Cinemaroc Island (Table of the Elements, 1999).

 

After his performance in Ludlam's Caprice (1976), Montez retired from the stage and soon thereafter, during the winter of 1977, relocated to Orlando, Florida. He referred to a number of personal and professional factors that motivated this decision to withdraw from New York and the cultural scene he had helped forge. Apparently, his final stage collaboration with Ludlam was marked by frequent sparring: “It was a very small part. I wanted to change some of my lines and he wouldn't allow me”. Montez also no longer received regular calls to work with other filmmakers and artists. His sense of a waning interest in his artistic skills was coupled by a personal frustration with life in Manhattan, particularly with the extremely harsh winter. «I felt that nobody wanted me. I had a bad flu. I was living in a place in Greenpoint in Brooklyn. I thought, “I'm not going to stay here”, When I got better, I [looked] for clerical work and low rents. And the lower rents were in Orlando». Rivera moved to Orlando in January 1977 and worked at various jobs until landing a longtime position as a greeter and ticket-taker at Disney World. Throughout the next three decades, the memorabilia from his performance career–including his heavily illustrated scrapbook–remained (literally) in his apartment closet. In 2009 Montez made his first public appearance since the 1970s in Berlin at the festival LIVE FILM! JACK SMITH! Five Flaming Days in a Rented World[26]. At LIVE FILM!, Montez not only granted a number of public and private interviews but also took on the role of Juanita Castro in Ronald Tavel's 1965 play The Life of Juanita Castro, appearing for the first time in the part that was written for him over forty years earlier[27]. In 2012, Montez received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Teddy Awards at the Berlin Film Festival. In the final four years of his life, Montez was not only able to revisit and comment on his prolific work in the New York underground but also to begin anew with performances, films and photo shoots. At the time of his unexpected death, he was preparing for a series of performances, in New York City, as part of Performa 13 called “Mario Montez Returns”[28] .

 

 

   Marc Siegel 

 

[1 ]This text is a slightly altered version of my essay, "...for MM", Criticism, 56.2, 2014, pp. 361-374.

 

[2] Gerard Malanga,"Interview with Jack Smith", Film Culture, 45, Summer 1967, p.12.

 

[3]See the obituary I wrote for Montez athttp://artforum.com/passages/id=43473, Artforum, September 27, 2016.

 

[4] Most writing on Montez relies either on Gary McColgen, "The Superstar: An Interview with Mario Montez", Film Culture, 45, Summer 1967, pp.17-20, or Warhol's observations in Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, Popism: The Warhol '60s, Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, New York 1980. As far as I know, only two other interviews were published in the 1960s. See John Gruen, "The Underground's M.M.–Mario Montez", New York/World Journal Tribune, January 22, 1967, (Reprinted in John Gruen, Close-Up - Viking Press, New York 1968, pp. 28-31; and Frank Keating, "...and Lace", Queen's Quarterly, Summer 1969, pp.16-19, 44. Avery Willard has a brief biographical statement about Montez in his fascinating book Female Impersonation, Regiment Publications, New York 1971, pp. 11-15. In 1971 Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica engaged Montez in discussion as part of his series of Héliotapes. An English-language transcription of their exchange was first published as Hélio Oititica, "Héliotape with Mario Montez (1971)", Criticism, 56.2, 2014, pp. 379-404.

 

[5] This text is based on my research in the existing literature and in Montez's personal archives, as well as on numerous private conversations that I had with Montez in Berlin, Orlando, Frankfurt, Wroclaw and New York between 2009 and 2012. Gerard Forde and David Kratzner were present at some conversations conducted in August 2011 in Berlin. I benefitted additionally from the public discussions Montez and I staged at Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt on Nov. 22, 2012, with Agosto Machado, and on Nov 24, 2012; at the New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw with Jim Hoberman, Uzi Parnes, Ela Troyano and Ewa Szablowska on July 26, 2011; at the Arsenal cinema in Berlin on July 30, 2011; at New York University with Lola Pashalinski and Ela Troyano on April 1, 2010; at Columbia University with Agosto Machado on March 31, 2010; and in the context of LIVE FILM! JACK SMITH! Five Flaming Days in a Rented World at the Arsenal and the Hebbel am Ufer Theater in Berlin on October 30, 2009 and with Tony Conrad on November 1, 2009.

 

[6]I've yet to confirm exactly when Cleopatra posters began appearing in New York subways to advertise the Mankiewicz film. Given the scandal around Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's much publicized romance during the film's production, the film was certainly on people's minds much earlier than the New York premiere on June 12, 1963. I mention this because Rivera definitely appeared in in female costume in many of Smith's photo sessions prior to 1963, perhaps as early as 1961.

 

[7] Of Francis Francine's starrring role in Flaming Creatures, Tony Conrad notes: "The part was actually played by the costume. There are two or three different people playing the Francis Francine part. Frankie was a little bit unreliable. So if he didn't show up, then someone else would play his part. So there's this odd way in which the Francis Francine character changes shape from shot to shot", "Superstars of Cinemaroc", Tony Conrad in conversation with Mario Montez, moderated by Marc Siegel, Arsenal, Berlin, Nov. 1, 2009. One can say the same thing about Dolores Flores's role in the film, except for the significant fact that Rivera was extremely reliable. As I mention above, he simply had a day job and couldn't be at every shoot.

 

[8]Ibid. For more on these recordings and their significance for Smith and Conrad's later artistic work, see Branden Joseph, Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage, Zone Books, New York 2008, pp. 229-234 & 271-274 and Scott MacDonald's interview with Conrad in A Critical Cinema 5: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers,University of California, Berkley 2006, pp. 64-65. Conrad released some of these recordings on two CDs: 56 Ludlow Street 1962-64, Volume 1: Jack Smith: Les evening gowns damnées & Volume 2: Jack Smith, Silent Shadows on Cinemaroc Island, Table of the Elements, New York 1997 & 1999. There are also over one hundred reel-to-reel audio recordings located in the Smith archive at the Gladstone Gallery in New York, some of which likely feature Montez.

 

[9] See 56 Ludlow Street 1962-64, Volume 2: Jack Smith, Silent Shadows. This recording provides Smith a chance to try out some of the ideas he pursues in his brief essay, "The Memoirs of Maria Montez or Meet Me at the Bottom of the Pool", which was published later that same year in Film Culture, 31, Winter 1963/1964, pp. 3-4.

 

[10] Montez himself even claims as much in his 1971 discussion with Hélio Oiticica. See Oititica, "Héliotape with Mario Montez (1971)", Criticism, 56.2, 2014, p. 381.

 

 

[11] Joan Adler, "On Location", in Stephen Dwoskin, Film Is: The International Free Cinema, Overlook Press, New York, 1975, pp. 12-13.

 

[12] Keating, "...And Lace", Queen's Quarterly, 44, Summer 1969, p.17. Keating asked Montez if he minds being referred to as a drag queen and he replies, "No...It's okay. I used to like the term costume–but drag is alright...It's used and understood by everyone these days" (17, ellipses in original). Apparently Montez changed his mind about the term "drag" between 1967 and 1969 because in an earlier interview, he says :"I don't like the use of the term 'drag' because it has other meanings...it means something bad. I'll wear costumes for films or plays–but not at home–because I'm creating something for art". See McColgen, "The Superstar," 18 (ellipses in original). In this earlier discussion, Montez attributes his affection for Marilyn Monroe to the fact that "she's always sweet".

 

[13] Matthias Haase and Marc Siegel, "Do It Again! Do It Again! An Interview with Ronald Tavel", Criticism, 56.2, 2014, p.348.

 

[14] Ronald Tavel, Andy Warhol's Ridiculous Screenplays, Fast Books, Silverton, OR, 2015, p.22.

 

[15] Juan A. Suárez, "Jack Smith, Hélio Oiticica, Tropicalism", Criticism 56.2, 2014, pp. 295-328, particularly pp. 305-6.

 

[16] Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica argues similarly when he refers to a "MARIA MONTEZ-MARIO MONTEZ condition", meaning the analogous position of each Latin American performer in relation to their North American context–Hollywood and underground cinema, respectively. For Oiticica, Mario Montez is an "actor-personality-materialisation" of Smith's critical look at Latin American cliches. See Oiticica's brilliant short essay "Mario Montez, Tropicamp", trans. Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, Afterall, 28, Autumn/Winter 2011, pp. 17-21, quotes on pages 17 & 18.

 

[17] Montez's artist friends borrowed not only from his audio recordings. Interestingly, Ken Jacobs has noted that he couldn't have done the soundtracks for his films with Jack Smith, like Little Stabs at Happiness (1958-60) and Blonde Cobra (1963), if he wasn't able to borrow Rene Rivera's phonograph. Skype conversation with Ken Jacobs, Arsenal cinema, Berlin, November 1, 2009.

 

[18] See Callie Angell, "Batman and Dracula: The Collaborations of Jack Smith and Andy Warhol", Criticism, 56.2, 2014, pp.159-186.

 

[19] Qtd. in Gruen, "Mario Montez," p.29.

 

[20] This is Ronald Tavel's claim. See Tavel, "The Banana Diary: The Making of Andy Warhol's Harlot" (1966) in Andy Warhol: Film Factory, ed. Michael O'Pray, British Film Institute, London, 1989, pp. 66-86.

 

[21] Gruen, "Mario Montez", p. 29.

 

[22] This fact stands in obvious contrast to claims in many Warhol biographies that link Montez to regulars in the Factory social scene. For instance, Tony Scherman and David Dalton ponder the presence of amphetamine users in the Factory by quoting John Cale to the following effect: "if you look at those characters that were in the Factory–Ondine, Mario Montez, Joe Campbell–in New York at that period of time…where the hell else were these people going to go where they'd be able to express themselves and not just get treated like the looneys they would be if they were in the outside world? There was safety at the Factory." Since Montez neither used drugs, nor dressed in drag in his daily life, he was hardly a "looney" outside the Factory, but simply an ordinary working class Puerto Rican New Yorker. See Scherman and Dalton, Andy Warhol: His Controversial Life, Art and Colourful Times, JR Books, London 2010, p.195. See also page 225 for another reference to Montez that implies he was a regular "flamboyant" presence at the Factory.

 

[23] McColgen, "The Superstar: An Interview with Mario Montez", Film Culture, 45, Summer 1967, p.19.

 

[24] Montez made brief appearances in other films as well, including Occhio privato sul nuovo mondo (Alfredo Leonardi, 1970) and Underground and Emigrants (Rosa von Praunheim, 1976). He also appeared as an extra in Candy (Christian Marquand, 1968).

 

[25] See Oiticica, "Mario Montez" and Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz,“TROPICAMP, PRE- and POST-TROPICALIA at Once: Some Contextual Notes on Hélio Oiticica's 1971 Text", Afterall, 28, Autumn/Winter 2011, p. 4.

 

[26] This two-part festival curated by Susanne Sachsse, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, and Marc Siegel for Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, e.V. and HAU/Hebbel Theater am Ufer involved over fifty international artists and scholars and took place in Berlin on March 20 & 21, 2009 (for festival participants only) and October 29-Nov. 1, 2009 (public events).

 

[27] See my brief article, "How Not to Lose Track of Time: Remembering Mario Montez", Texte zur Kunst, 92, Dezember 2013, pp. 248-250.

 

[28] These performances were conceived by artist Conrad Ventur as the culmination of his ongoing work with Montez. In 2010, Montez began a regular collaboration with Ventur that resulted in numerous short videos and photos, including a contribution to Ventur's series of video Screen Tests. Montez also worked with John Edward Heys on the short film A Lazy Summer Afternoon with Mario Montez (2011) and appeared in Karel Radziszewski's documentary film AmericaIs Not Ready for This (2011).