Early Abstractions (1946-57) Harry Smith

Circular Tensions, Homage to Oskar Fischinger - Harry Smith
Circular Tensions, Homage to Oskar Fischinger – Harry Smith

Donjuanauxenfers has uploaded ‘Early Abstractions’ a cycle of early experimental films and animations by the great Harry Smith. There are a number of short individual films on the compilation although they are presented as one long stream in this context.

Part 1 contains three films that are colourful and abstract. Falling neatly into a category that could be called ‘visual music’, Smith produced these films by hand-painting 35mm film and stock photographing, or in the case of ‘Message from the sun’ using sticker stencils to mask and then paint onto the film. The films were silent although it was intended that music be played alongside them, Smith often used the jazz or native American Indian tribal music.

The preoccupation of synaesthetically merging sound with moving image is a key aspect of Smiths early work, as with his contemporaries (Bute, Mclaren, Belson, Whitney), its also follows a tradition set by earlier proponents such as Oskar Fischinger. Infact Part 3 contains ‘Circular Tensions, Homage to Oskar Fischinger’, a personal favourite where an abstract interplay of moving geometric figures are augmented by hypontic native american music.

Smith devoted much of his life to the study of the occult and the arcane. He was a known Kabbalist, Alchemist and Tarot fanatacist and these interests could be tied back to the fact that his parents were Theosophists. In his later life it’s interesting to note he had major connections with the OTO and delved deep into Enochian studies. All of this can be felt in Mirror Animations (1957) in which the filmmaker described as ‘An exposition of Buddhism and the Kaballa in the form of a collage’.

‘In a time when computers had not yet nudged their way into everyday life, Smith was making a decent attempt to turn his brain into a multimedia hub, a receptacle capable of sucking in and spewing out various bits of data, juggling them around in new, enlightening ways.’ – Jamie Sexton

Further Reading:

Harry Smith Archives including pictures of him.
Alchemical Transformations: The Abstract Films of Harry Smith, Jamie Sexton.
Image-Smithing, Dirk de Bruyn.
Smith was also fervent and well-known anthologist of American Folk Music.

One Response to “Early Abstractions (1946-57) Harry Smith”

  1. agsystems writes:

    very cool, amazing that he did all this without computers etc…

    love the Circular Tensions piece

    //how on earth does someone practice alchemy??

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