Harry Everett Smith

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Harry Everett Smith (29 May 1923, Portland, Oregon27 November 1991, New York City) was an American archivist, ethnomusicologist, student of anthropology, record collector, experimental filmmaker, artist, bohemian and mystic. Smith is a well-known figure in several fields. People who know him as a filmmaker often do not know of his 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, while folk music enthusiasts often do not know he was "the greatest living magician" according to Kenneth Anger.

Smith died, singing in Paola Igliori's arms, in Room 328 at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City, and his ashes are in the care of his wife, Rosebud Feliu-Pettet.


[edit] Life and work

[edit] Anthologist of American folk music

The Anthology of American Folk Music was a compilation of recordings of American folk and country music commercially released as 78 rpm records between 1927 and 1932. The anthology was released in 1952 on Folkways Records as three two-LP sets. It was rereleased as a boxed set of six compact discs on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 1997. A fourth installment of the anthology, conceived of in the 50s but abandoned, became available on Revenant Records in 2000.

This document is generally thought to have been enormously influential on the folk & blues revival of the '50s and '60s, and brought the works of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, Dick Justice and many others to the attention of musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and featured such legendary acts as The Carter Family and Clarence Ashley. The Harry Smith Anthology, as some call it, was the bible of folk music during the late 1950s and early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. As stated in the liner notes to the 1997 reissue, the late musician Dave van Ronk had earlier commented that "we all knew every word of every song on it, including the ones we hated."[1]

Smith edited and directed the design of the Anthology, including the cover art, which featured a Theodore de Bry etching of a monochord which Smith had taken from a mystical treatise by scientist/alchemist Robert Fludd. Smith also penned short synopses of the songs in the collection, which were made to resemble newspaper headlines-- for the song King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O by Chubby Parker, Smith notes: Zoologic Miscegeny Achieved Mouse Frog Nuptuals [sic], Relatives Approve.

Selections were culled by Harry Smith from his amassed personal collection of 78 rpm records, picked for their commercial and artistic appeal within a set period of time, 1927 to 1932. Smith chose those particular years as boundaries since, as he stated himself, "1927, when electronic recording made possible accurate music reproduction, and 1932, when the Depression halted folk music sales."[2]

Smith earned a belated Grammy, the Chairman's Merit Award, for his contribution to this collection shortly before his death in 1991.

In addition to compiling, Smith also recorded music: Allen Ginsberg's long player New York Blues: Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs released in 1981 was captured by Smith at the Chelsea Hotel in 1973. He recorded the first album by The Fugs in 1965, recorded and released a multi-LP set of Kiowa Peyote Meeting songs on Folkways, and, in the 80s, recorded thousands of hours of "field recordings" for a project called "deonage."

[edit] Experimental filmmaker

Critical attention has been most often paid to his experimental work with film. He produced extravagant abstract animations. The effects were often painted or manipulated by hand directly on the celluloid. Themes of mysticism, surrealism and dada were common elements in his work. [3]

Information especially about Smith's early films is very contradictory. This is partly due to the work-in-progress nature of experimental filmmaking as films are often reedited (hence the different runtimes), occasionally incorporating reassembled footage of different films, or showed with varying music tracks. For instance, the handmade films now known as No. 1, 2, 3, and 5 were accompanied by an improvising jazz band on May 12, 1950 when they premiered as part of the Art in Cinema series curated by Smith's friend Frank Stauffacher at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Initially Smith intended to use Dizzy Gillespie songs (vide infra). Later he showed the films with random records or even the radio as accompaniment. Harry Smith stated that his films were made for contemporary music, and he kept changing their soundtracks. Harry also re-cut Early Abstractions to sync with Meet the Beatles! picked out by his wife, Rosebud Feliu-Pettet. After Smith's death artists such as Philip Glass or DJ Spooky provided musical backgrounds for screenings of his films: Glass at the 2004 summer benefit concert of the Film-Makers' Cooperative and DJ Spooky at several venues in 1999 for Harry Smith: A Re-creation, a florilegium of Smith's films put together by his close collaborator M. Henry Jones who tries to screen the films in the manner intended by Smith - as performances - using stroboscopic effects, multiple projections, magic lanterns, and the like.[4]

The present-day numbering system which Smith introduced some time between 1951 and 1964-5 (the year the Film-Makers' Cooperative started distributing 16 mm copies of his films) includes only films that survived up to that point. Thus this filmography is in no way a comprehensive list of all the films he has ever made, all the more as he is known to have lost, sold, traded or even wantonly destroyed some of his own works. The dating of the film presents another puzzle. Since Smith frequently worked for years on them and kept little to no documentation, the information varies considerably from one source to another. Therefore all available information has been added to the following list, inevitably resulting in a loss of clarity but having the advantage of giving the whole picture. The films are also known by variant designation, i.e. Film No. 1, Film # 1 or simply # 1.

[edit] Fine artist

Smith's early efforts in the field of fine art painting were freeform abstractions intended to visually represent notes, measures, beats and riffs of the beatnik era jazz music that inspired him.

There is photographic evidence of Harry Smith's large paintings created in the 1940s, however the works themselves were destroyed by Harry himself. He did not destroy his work on film (although he did misplace a few) however, and this legacy supplements the nature and design of his paintings. Harry created several later works, some which have been serially printed in limited editions. Much of his imagery is inspired by Kabbalistic themes such as the Sephirah, where the Planetary Spheres are distributed like musical notes upon a staff, -- trivia that Harry would find very important to note here -- and is reflected in his choice of graphics and cover art of the Anthology of American Folk Music.

[edit] Eccentric and bohemian

Harry Smith would talk at great length and in extraordinary depth on topics spanning many subjects and ranges of knowledge. According to Khem Caigan, a typical chain of free association might range from, for example, the macrocosm and the microcosm and the great chain of being to bioelectromagnetics and electrophysiology and the geomagnetic field and the psyche, Sylvanus Thompson and Max Knoll and the generation of phosphenes, musicology and molecular physics, parapsychology and poltergeist phenomena; the Margery and Helene Smith mediumship cases, the tarot and the Key of Solomon the King, Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter's Regular Polytopes and the Leech Lattice, his collection of 30,000 Ukrainian Easter eggs and Seminole quilts; alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone; all in an effort to demonstrate the underlying connectedness and interrelatedness of all things for his audience of the moment. On occasion, the less astute of his listeners would have trouble following his train of thought, as one subject always led on to another.

Harry often had difficulty paying his bills and had very little interest in maintaining a normal, ordered life. He would frequently borrow money which would never be paid back, money that he would often spend on records and books, even when low on essential items. On the other hand, Khem Caigan is quick to point out that Harry was generous to a fault, always springing for a much appreciated meal when he was down on his luck. It is suggested that Harry enjoyed alcohol, cannabis, Desoxyn, Dewamesk, hashish, LSD, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and other entheogens on occasion.

[edit] Occultist

Smith's parents, Robert James Smith and Mary Louise, were influenced by the early Modern Spiritualist movement in the United States. They were, reportedly, Pantheist Theosophists, interested in the work of Madame Blavatsky. His grandfather was founder of a fraternity that was an off-shoot of the Masonic type in the US. From this we can surmise an early exposure to this type of material. His mother taught on the Lummi Reservation where Harry claimed to receive a shamanic initiation at a young age. Harry recorded many Lummi songs and rituals, with equipment built by himself and with notation of his own devising, and developed an important collection of religious objects.

Smith was also a Thelemite. In the late Forties he began work with Charles Stansfeld Jones and Albert Handel. Smith also created a set of irregularly-shaped Tarot cards, one of which was adapted for the color Ordo Templi Orientis degree certificates, and used with several others for the paperback Holy Books of Thelema which Harry designed. He also studied the Enochian system in depth, compiling the only known concordance of the Enochian language with the aid of Khem Caigan, his assistant throughout much of the 70s and early 80s. Harry was a familiar figure in the New York Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O., from the late 1970s and, although he was never a member of the O.T.O., in 1986 he was consecrated a bishop in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.

[edit] Works

[edit] Discography

[edit] Filmography

  • Early Abstractions (1939-56 or 1941-57 or 1946-52 or 1946-57) (assembled ca. 1964) 16 mm, black & white and color, 22 min. Originally silent, then accompanied by a reel-to-reel tape with songs by The Fugs—whose first album Smith produced—and subsequently by an optical soundtrack featuring Meet the Beatles!. Teiji Ito's musical piece Shaman plays on the 1987 video release. At first the anthology included only No. 1-4, later No. 5, 7, and 10 were added. The individual films however are not divided, they play as one. This anthology, in 2006, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
  • No. 1: A Strange Dream (1939-47 or 1946-48) hand-painted 35 mm stock photographed in 16 mm, color, silent, 2:20 or 5 min. Initially intended to be screened with and synchronized to Dizzy Gillespie's Manteca or Guarachi Guaro. "...the history of the geologic period reduced to orgasm length."
  • No. 2: Message From the Sun (1940-42 or 1946-48) hand-painted 35 mm stock photographed in 16 mm, color, 2:15 or 10 min. Initially intended to be screened with and synchronized to Dizzy Gillespie's Algo Bueno. This film "takes place either inside the sun or in... Switzerland" according to Smith. To produce this film he used a technique that involved cutting stickers of the type used to reinforce the holes in 3-ring binder paper. These were applied to 16 mm movie film and used like a stencil. Layers of vaseline and paint were used to color each frame in this manner. The effect is hypnotic, psychedelic and is something like a visual music.
  • No. 3: Interwoven (1942-47 or 1947-49) hand-painted 35 mm stock photographed in 16 mm, color, 3:20 or 10 min. Reportedly cut down from about 30 min. Initially intended to be screened with and synchronized to Dizzy Gillespie's Guarachi Guaro or Manteca. "Batiked animation made of dead squares..."
  • No. 4: Fast Track a.k.a. 'Manteca (1947 or 1949-50) 16 mm, black & white and color, 2:16 or 6 min. Silent though possibly intended to be screened with Dizzy Gillespie's Manteca. The film starts with a color sequence showing Smith's painting Manteca (ca. 1950) with which he tried to subjectively depict Gillespie's song, every brushstroke representing a music note. The film concludes with black & white superimpositions.
  • No. 5: Circular Tensions (Homage to Oskar Fischinger) (1949-50) 16 mm, color, silent, 2:30 or 6 min. Sequel to No. 4.
  • No. 6 (1948-51 or 1950-51) 16 mm, color, silent or mono, 1:30 or 20 min. Untraced red-green anaglyph 3-D film.
  • No. 7: Color Study (1950-51-52) 16 mm, color, silent, 5:25 or 15 min. "Optically printed Pythagoreanism in four movements supported on squares, circles, grillwork, and triangles with an interlude concerning an experiment."
  • No. 8 (1954 or 1957) 16 mm, black & white, silent, 5 min. Untraced collage. Later expanded to No. 12.
  • No. 9 (1954 or 1957) 16 mm, color, 10 min. Untraced collage.
  • No. 10: Mirror Animations (1956-57) 16 mm, color, 3:35 or 10 min. Study for No. 11. "An exposition of Buddhism and the Kaballah in the form of a collage. The final scene shows Agaric mushrooms growing on the moon while the Hero and Heroine row by on a cerebrum."
  • No. 11: Mirror Animations (1956-57) 16 mm, color, 3:35 or 8 min. Features Thelonious Monk's Misterioso. Cut-up and collage animation. Later expanded to No. 17.
  • No. 12: Heaven and Earth Magic a.k.a. The Magic Feature a.k.a. Heaven and Earth Magic Feature (1943-58 or 1950-60 or 1950-61 or 1957-62 or 1959-61) (reedited several times between 1957-62) 16 mm, black & white, mono, initially 6 hours, later versions of 2 hours and 67 min. Extended version of No. 8. Collage animation culled from 19th century catalogs meant to be shown using custom-made projectors fit out with color filters (gels, wheels, etc.) and masking hand-painted glass slides to alter the projected image. Smith explains, "The first part depicts the heroine's toothache consequent to the loss of a very valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. Next follows an elaborate exposition of the heavenly land, in terms of Israel and Montreal. The second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Müller on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London." Jonas Mekas gave the film—which is often regarded as Smith's major work—its title in 1964/65.
  • No. 13: Oz a.k.a. The Magic Mushroom People of Oz (1962) 35 mm widescreen (scope), color, stereo, 3 hours or 108 min. but only 20-30 min. are known to survive. Unfinished commercial adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which was shelved after Harry's close friend, the executive producer and primary financial backer Arthur Young died of cancer. Portions released as No. 16, 19, and 20. From the reported three to six hours of camera test footage (rushes) only ca. 15 minutes, in the form of non-color-corrected rushes, is known to be extant. The only completed bit is The Approach to Emerald City, a 5 (other sources say 9 resp. 12) minute sequence set to music from Charles Gounod's Faust. [5]
  • No. 14: Late Superimpositions (1963-64-65) 16 mm, color, 29 min. Structured 122333221. Features the beginning of the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht as recorded in 1956 by Lotte Lenya, the Norddeutscher Radiochor (Max Thurn) and the Norddeutsches Radio-Orchester (Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg). Later expanded to No. 18. "I honor it the most of my films, otherwise a not very popular one before 1972." Shot in New York City and Anadarko.
  • No. 15 (1965-1966) 16 mm, color, silent, 10 min. Animation of Seminole patchwork.
  • No. 16: Oz - The Tin Woodman's Dream (1967) 35 mm widescreen (scope), color, silent, 14:30 min. Consists of The Approach to Emerald City (cf. note on No. 13) followed by about 10 minutes of kaleidoscopic footage shot ca. 1966. [6] See also No. 20.
  • No. 17: Mirror Animations (extended version) (1962-76 or 1979) 16 mm, color, 12 min. Features Thelonious Monk's Misterioso. Extended version of No. 11 printed forward-backward-forward.
  • No. 18: Mahagonny (1970-1980: shot 70-72, edited 72-80) 16 mm, color, tetraptych screen (initially with four 16 mm projectors, now composited onto a single 35 mm strip), 141 min. (edited down from over 11 hours of material). With Allen Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, Patti Smith and images of Robert Mapplethorpe installations. "A mathematical analysis of Marcel Duchamp's The Large Glass, expressed in terms of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" [7] upon which it is loosely based. Smith divided the images into four groups (Portraits, Animations, Symbols and Nature) and, with the assistance of Khem Caigan, arranged them as a series of procedural permutations in relation to the opera: every reel contains twenty-four scenes forming the palindrome PASA-PASNA-PASAP-ANSAP-ASAP-N. Note that the entire series hinges on Nature. Extended version of No. 14 (it also uses the same 1956 German language recording) Smith considered this film to be the ground-breaking harbinger of his unfinished masterwork, which was to have been an explication of the Four Last Things.
  • No. 19 (1980) 35 mm widescreen (scope), color, silent. Untraced excerpts from No. 13. See also No. 20.
  • No. 20: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten (1981) 35 mm widescreen (scope), color, silent, 27 min. Consists of No. 16 and No. 19.

[edit] Other sources

[edit] Films about or with Harry Smith

[edit] Bibliography

  • Foye, Raymond, ed. (2002). The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward: Selected Works by Harry Smith, Philip Taaffe, and Fred Tomaselli. New York: James Cohan Gallery.
  • Singh, Rani, ed. (1999). Think of the Self Speaking: Harry Smith, Selected Interviews. Seattle: Elbow/Cityful Press. Introduction by Allen Ginsberg (review)
  • Igliori, Paola, ed. (1996). American Magus Harry Smith: A Modern Alchemist. New York: Inanout Press. (review)
  • Sitney, P. Adams (1979). Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-1978. New York: Oxford University Press.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ Marcus, Greil. "The Old, Weird America," liner note essay. Anthology of American Folk Music, 1997 reissue, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
  2. ^ Smith, Harry. "Foreword," liner note essay. Anthology of American Folk Music, 1952 edition, Folkways Records.
  3. ^ The main sources of the filmography: Harry Smith Archives ([1] & [2]), Anthology Film Archives ([3]) & [4]), Krugman Associates ([5], [6] & [7], IMDb, articles by Jamie Sexton, Dirk de Bruyn (both Senses of Cinema), Eric L. Flom (HistoryLink.org), Thomas Steinberg (Kiez e.V., in German), Nicole Brenez (Arte, in French, also in German), the Centre Pompidou (in French), Séances (in French), Re:Voir, the National Film Preservation Foundation, The Film-Makers' Cooperative, the Northwest Film Forum, the Cinematheque Ontario, the Debalie Cinema, the 3cinema (in Polish), the filmography from Paola Igliori (ed.): American Magus. Harry Smith. A Modern Alchemist. New York: Inanout Press 1996, and Hans Scheugl/Ernst Schmid jr.: Eine Subgeschichte des Films. Lexikon des Avantgarde-, Experimental- und Undergroundfilms. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag 1974 (edition suhrkamp 471), vol. 2, pp. 844-847.
  4. ^ Center for Visual Music, Frameworks Mailing List message, The Film-Makers' Cooperative, Chris Baker: A Waking Dream (Austin Chronicle), Ain't It Cool News), Reconstructing Harry (City Pages).
  5. ^ See sources: [8], [9]. See credits on IMDb.
  6. ^ See credits and plot summary on IMDb.
  7. ^ Rani Singh (Getty Research Institute). Vide also this press release and Rani Singh's statement on the accompanying symposium Investigating Mahagonny (2002). In addition see a press release from the Harry Smith Archives, articles by Dave Kehr (The New York Times), Jim Hoberman (The Village Voice), Spencer Sundell (on his blog), Andy Horbal (on his blog), Brad Luen (IMDb) and Thomas Steinberg (Kiez e.V., in German).
  8. ^ See articles by Miriam Tola (Cinecittà), Marcelo Panozzo (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) (in Spanish), the IFFR (International Film Festival Rotterdam), Tod Booth (SF iNDiE FEST), Ken Eisner (Variety), Matthew Tempest (The Guardian), GM (Time Out), John Strausbaugh (New York Press), Greil Marcus (Salon.com), The Blinding Light!! Cinema, and CrossPathCulture (with trailer).
  9. ^ Steven Jenkins (San Francisco International Film Festival), Jay Weissberg (Variety).

[edit] External links

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