July 2, 2010
HARRY SMITH | filmmaker | musicologist | painter | anthropologist | linguist | translator
The effects Harry Smith employed in his early films were often painted or manipulated by hand directly on the celluloid. Themes of mysticism, surrealism and dada were common elements in his work.
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.
"Early Abstractions" (1946-57) part 3
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.
For more on the amazing Harry Smith (including info on his giant and influential Anthology of American Folk Music, check out his online archive here