Harry Everett Smith  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Harry Everett Smith (29 May 1923, Portland, Oregon27 November 1991, New York City) was an American archivist, ethnomusicologist, student of anthropology, record collector, 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.



  • 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!. The 1987 video release features Teiji Ito's musical piece Shaman. 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 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..." (Available on the DVD collection Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 (2008).
  • 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 Smith'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.
  • 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. 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" 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, followed by Symbols. 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.

Other sources

Films about or with Harry Smith


  • 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.

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