Harry Smith

Harry Everett Smith (29 May 1923, Portland, Oregon – 27 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.

Life and work

Experimental filmmaker

Critical attention has been most often paid to his . He produced extravagant abstract animations. The effects were often painted or manipulated by hand on the celluloid. Themes of mysticism, surrealism and dada were common elements in his work. The main sources of the filmography: Harry Smith Archives (http://www.harrysmitharchives.com/1_bio/cv.html & http://www.harrysmitharchives.com/3_store/index.html), Anthology Film Archives (http://www.anthologyfilmarchives.org/schedule/?start=2006-9-15&end=2006-9-21) & http://www.anthologyfilmarchives.org/schedule/?start=2006-3-01&end=2006-3-07), Krugman Associates (http://www.krugmaninc.com/title_jump.asp?TITLE=EARLY+ABSTRACTIONS, http://www.krugmaninc.com/title_jump.asp?TITLE=HEAVEN+AND+EARTH+MAGIC & http://www.krugmaninc.com/title_jump.asp?TITLE=LATE+SUPERIMPOSITIONS, 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.

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 . 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 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 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 who tries to screen the films in the manner intended by Smith - as performances - using stroboscopic effects, multiple projections, magic lanterns, and the like.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).

The present-day numbering system which Smith introduced some time between 1951 and 1964-5 (the year 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.

Fine artist

Smith's early efforts in the field of fine art painting were freeform abstractions intended to visually represent notes, measures, and riffs of the jazz music that 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 themes such as the Sephirah, where the 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 .

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.'Marcus, Greil. 'The Old, Weird America,' liner note essay. Anthology of American Folk Music, 1997 reissue, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

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 Great Depression halted folk music sales.'Smith, Harry. 'Foreword,' liner note essay. Anthology of American Folk Music, 1952 edition, Folkways Records.

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.'

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 and the great chain of being to bioelectromagnetics and electrophysiology and the geomagnetic field and the , Sylvanus Thompson and Max Knoll and the generation of phosphenes, musicology and molecular physics, parapsychology and poltergeist phenomena; the and Helene Smith mediumship cases, the tarot and the , and the , his collection of 30,000 Easter eggs and Seminole quilts; alchemy and the ; 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.


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 , interested in the work of Madame Blavatsky. His grandfather was founder of a fraternity that was an off-shoot of the 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 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 . 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.



*Anthology of American Folk Music, 1952, Folkways Records. Re-released in 1997 by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Other sources

Films about or with Harry Smith

Autobiography (1950s, Jordan Belson) Glances of Smith, Hy Hirsh, and others from the San Francisco scene. Birth of a Nation (1997, Jonas Mekas) 16 mm, color, 85 min. Snippets of 160 underground film people (among them Smith) recorded between 1955 and 1996. Restoring Harry Smith's Mahagonny a.k.a. Making of Mahagonny (2000 or 2002, Simon Lund) 35 mm, color, 6 min. Short documentary on the restoration of No. 18. Watch it here. American Magus. Harry Smith (2001-02, Paola Igliori) video, color, 93 min. Documentary on Smith interweaving clips from his films, pictures from his countless collections, drawings, paintings, rare archive footage and snatches of interviews with Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lionel Ziprin, Robert Frank, Jonas Mekas, , James Wasserman, , Percy Heath, Grateful Dead, Patti Smith, DJ Spooky, Khem Caigan, Harvey Bialy and Smith's wife Rosebud Feliu-Pettet, among others. Photographer, writer, publisher, and filmmaker Paola Igliori, who Smith befriended a few months before his death, and in whose arms Smith died, is also the editor of a book of the same title released by her own publishing house Inanout Press (see Bibliography).See articles by Miriam Tola (Cinecittà), Marcelo Panozzo () (in Spanish), the IFFR (International Film Festival Rotterdam), Tod Booth (SF iNDiE FEST), Ken Eisner (), Matthew Tempest (The Guardian), GM (Time Out), John Strausbaugh (New York Press), Greil Marcus (), The Blinding Light!! Cinema, and CrossPathCulture (with trailer). On Mahagonny (2002, Rani Singh) video, color, 15 min. Jonas Mekas and others discuss No. 18. Also features a conversation between Smith and critic shot by in 1971. Rani Singh is a former assistant of Smith (1987-1991), founder and current director of the Harry Smith Archives as well as research associate at the Research Institute in Los Angeles. The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (2006, Rani Singh) video, black & white and color, 90 min. Documentary with Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Philip Glass, Emmylou Harris, Bob Neuwirth, Beth Orton, Lou Reed, Beck, David Johansen, Greil Marcus, Hal Willner, Allen Ginsberg, Percy Heath, Steve Earle, Luis Kemnitzer, among others. Steven Jenkins (San Francisco International Film Festival), Jay Weissberg.


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