- Orphan JackieThe Unexpected Rediscovery of Kiss My Lips, Artchie
Jackie Curtis, née John Curtis Holder Jr., was born on February 19, 1947, in New York City. While primarily a stage actor, Curtis began writing his own plays following his stage debut in Tom Eyen’s Miss Nefertiti Regrets at the age of seventeen.1 Now acknowledged as a trailblazing transgendered performance artist who bravely remained true to his vision despite the anti-LGBT bigotry of the times, Curtis also wrote and appeared in plays starring contemporary luminaries such as Harvey Fierstein, Patti Smith, Holly Woodlawn, and Candy Darling. He is also credited as having given a young Robert De Niro his first stage appearance in Curtis’s Glamour, Glory and Gold.2
Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey capitalized on Curtis’s talent and notoriety by casting Curtis and Candy Darling in Flesh (1968) and, along with Holly Woodlawn, in Women in Revolt (1971), a spoof of the women’s liberation movement. Curtis’s participation in these films and the “Warhol Superstar” status they conferred expanded the recognition of his talent and oeuvre outside the confines of downtown New York City. While Candy Darling may have commanded more of the spotlight (and has arguably retained her place in the public consciousness forty-odd years after her death), both Candy and Jackie were memorialized in Lou Reed’s signature song “Walk on the Wild Side.” Curtis would subsequently appear in Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Eric Mitchell’s Underground U.S.A. (1980) before his untimely death in 1985.
Though the Factory scene has been assiduously documented in a variety of books and other publications, some artists who entered the Warhol fold had the foresight to document their own views of what they witnessed, on celluloid or through the written word. Two years ago, I came across a 16mm film print on eBay purporting to be a “Warhol” film. The title was not one with which I was familiar, despite having read extensively about Warhol’s films and having accessed some of them as a researcher at the Warhol Museum. After winning the auction, I received the 16mm film print and found that, to my surprise, my fifty-dollar acquisition was a formerly “lost” underground film credited to Ron Lieberman and Salvatore Bovoso, titled Kiss My Lips, Artchie.
Copyrighted in 1972, according to the end title, the sixteen-minute Kiss My Lips, Artchie is essentially a chamber piece detailing a day in Jackie Curtis’s life and is narrated by Curtis himself. The film begins with a rather haphazard panning shot that documents the ephemera of Jackie’s life, presumably shot within his apartment. As the camera reveals press clippings, movie star magazines, and a Dusty Springfield LP that also appears on the sound track, Curtis muses over a variety of topics, ranging from (circa 1972) rents in New York City to the distinctions to be made between streetwalking and hooking, the Warhol crowd, and the vagaries of fame. The film employs Curtis’s rapid-fire yet succinct verbal ruminations as a framework for heretofore-unseen footage of Warhol, Candy Darling, Mario Montez, Jack Smith, Agosto Machado, Paul Ambrose, and other Factory luminaries, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of Jackie directing one of his plays at La MaMa Experimental Theater (possibly Vain Victory, given the film’s date and identifiable cast). Last, the film boasts the only known footage of Jackie’s grandmother “Slugger Ann,” a legendary New York City figure who ran a working-class bar of the same name on the Lower East Side.
On a technical level, Kiss My Lips, Artchie is admittedly somewhat crude. The rather excessive graininess suggests that the film may have been blown up from a smaller film gauge. Though the film is at times underexposed, the participants are nonetheless readily identifiable. Furthermore, the stark black-and-white cinematography lends some striking contrast to the images, made arguably more poignant given how many of the subjects are no longer with us. Kiss My Lips, Artchie is undeniably a valuable time capsule of the nascent LGBT civil rights movement and also serves as documentation...