Not part of my slow delve into Film as a Subversive Art – my copy has no index, so I don’t yet know if Smith is covered within – rather a holdover from when I read Visionary Film. Quotes below are by Smith, as printed in the latter book.
Film No. 1 (1939)
Fast, blobby, hand-drawn animation morphs along a speckled screen. I likened the characters to amoebas, then blew my own mind thinking about the similarities between actions on a microscope slide and on a film frame. “The history of the geologic period reduced to orgasm length.”
Film No. 2 (1941)
Full moon circles pendulum and pac-man across the screen, a 2×2 grid of squares joining them center screen.
Film No. 3 (1946)
Hashtag: The Movie… rectangles form the number sign, then more complicated grids and block patterns, some diamonds thrown into the mix, a lot more complex than the last couple films. The rapid-fire circles of the second movie broke up in compression artifacts on my video copy, but the brilliant colors of this one made up for that. “The most complex hand-drawn film imaginable.”
Film No. 4 (1947)
Short, using an actual camera I think. Familiar circle and grid shapes, as lights, smearing across the screen in multiple exposure blends. “Made in a single night.”
Film No. 5: Circular Tensions (1949)
The technique of the previous piece, refined and improved, with more colors coming in.
Film No. 7 (1951)
Long and great, a huge leap forward. Looks like someone got a proper animation rig (courtesy of the Guggenheim Foundation) and applied all his favorite colors, shapes and patterns to it – brings to mind Oskar Fischinger (I wrote this before discovering that Film No. 5 was aka Homage to Oskar Fischinger).
Film No. 10 (1956)
Another big change – instead of just shapes, we’ve got character-objects. They seem to be based on foreign historical/religious icons, dancing around and forming miniature pantomimes. “An exposition of Buddhism and the Kaballa in the form of a collage.”
Snake made of eyeballs:
Film No. 11 (1956)
Some of the same religious icons/patterns as the previous movie, nicely synched to a Thelonious Monk piece. Possibly the previous films had also been synched, since per the literature, “Smith spoke of his films in terms of synesthesia, the search for correspondences between color and sound,” but the earliest films had no synched soundtracks, and Smith kept changing the music – including at one point awkwardly overlaying Meet The Beatles over the whole collection, as in my copy.
Film No. 12: Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)
Small man with a hammer reconfigures objects, animals and women from/into pieces. Narrativish with sound effects, no music. Fully Gilliamesque, cut-out characters, always with something else hiding behind/beneath them. A house grows feet and walks off, machines with multi-hinged arms, umbrellas, syringes, eggs and watermelons, dripping liquid. One scene reminds me I haven’t seen Guy Maddin’s Odilon Redon in a while.
“8 shots for a quarter, win a kewpie doll,” funny to hear the carnival barker on the soundtrack the day after watching Gun Crazy. I don’t know if I can recommend watching 70 straight minutes of Harry Smith cutout animation. About the 20th time the magician brings out the hammer to reconfigure all nearby objects into new forms, I wondered if this wouldn’t be better served as an installation. And it might be appropriate to the depicted characters, but the sounds of crying babies and yowling cats never improve a movie.
“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, Montreal and the second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Muller on the day Edward the Seventh dedicated the Great Sewer of London.”