Thursday, August 23, 2007

Harry Smith's Abstract Films

Most people know Harry Smith as the folk music collector that inspired Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to go find gold in the mountains of song via his Anthology of American Music, but that is but one strange facet of Harry Smith. I was talking to Donald Miller from Borbetomagus this past week (I cannot name drop very often, so I jump at any opportunity) about the occult and Jack Parsons, arch occult master and founder of JPL and basically NASA, and he mentioned hanging out with Harry Smith in NYC back in the day and it sent me back to when my college girlfriend and I discovered a Blockbuster on the outskirts of town that for some reason had the entire Mystic Fire experimental film catalog for rent, so we would hook up friend's VCR's with RCA cables and dub off everything we could find. By 1992, I'll venture I possessed perhaps one of the more formidable VHS experimental film collections in the south, having tracked down and copied Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Harry Smith and Maya Deren movies. I had all that shit.

One day I came home to see my stereo in disarray, and a broken window pane directly over my now empty VCR shelf. There was some kind of juvenile delinquent situation going on in the house next door, like the boy was no longer allowed in the house, but would show as soon as his mom would leave for work and hang out with a couple friends on the porch all day. She even boarded up the window he'd crawl through , and I saw him out there with a crowbar in the morning, prying that board off, and then nailing it back up around 4:30. So sad, I can't imagine things ever getting to that point, but sometimes it does, and as a parent, I suppose it's a useful thing to have seen it.

Anyway, I assume it was them, and they hauled a pile of videocasettes through my window, trudged through the heat to the pawn shop around the corner, and subsequently dumped my hard-won collection in the nearest trash can when they woudln't give them a cent for it.

Now though the ridiculous magnanimity of YouTube (really, who has this stuff and goes through the trouble to put it up, nowadays?) Harry Smith's handpainted films can be seen (in probably comparable quality to my sketchy dubs) in a matter of clicks.

I am particularly partial to the fourth one, animated from paper cutouts, but they are all worth the trip, pun intended.

Copious info on Smith can be found at the Harry Smith Archives.

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