Flying Lotus and Harry Smith, two great tastes that taste great together!
Tomorrow night, our friends at Cinefamily present this inspired avant garde pairing:
Reprising an unforgettable show commissioned for the Ann Arbor Film Festival, L.A.’s own Flying Lotus joins Animation Breakdown for a unique screening of animator/folk music archivist/string figure enthusiast/culture hound extraordinaire Harry Smith’s 66-minute animated collage film Heaven and Earth Magic. The marriage of Smith’s ‘50s folk art mindset and Flying Lotus’ genre-defying 21st century sound may seem at odds, but they are both equally brilliant alchemical cut-and-paste samplers of world culture—and as kindred as spirits can get. Heaven and Earth Magic is a testament to the ability of animators to act as magicians, breathing life into even the most static, eyeworn 19th-century imagery—and as Flying Lotus contributes audio from disparate yet familiar sources (drum machine, turntable, laptop, synthesizer), two giants of sampling unite across time, and Smith’s playful experiments are imbued with a new, positively cosmic energy. This is one-of-a-kind live pairing you are not likely to see again!
Tickets $12, Tuesday, February 28th, 8:00pm at Cinefamily
Below, an excerpt from Harry Smith’s “Heaven and Earth Magic.” If you aren’t lucky enough to live in LA (I love saying that) as you’re watching it, maybe listen to Cosmogramma?
It’s an absolute delight! Guaranteed to make you smile or double your money back.
There are several similarly charming Harry Smith anecdotes like this one recounted in books such as Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular (Andrew Perchuck and Rani Singh); Think of the Self Speaking (edited by Rani Singh); American Magus: Harry Smith (edited by Paola Igliori) and the monograph Harry Smith: Fragments of a Northwest Life (Darrin Daniel).
My favorite Smith anecdote, and I think this one comes via Allen Ginsberg—pretty sure—is that Smith usually wore eyeglasses that he found in the trash. If he happened upon some discarded glasses, tried them on and they were better than the ones he was wearing, he’d toss the old ones and keep the new ones!
Artist, alchemical filmmaker, musical archeologist and avant garde shaman, Harry Smith’s obsessive interests made him an influential, yet not widely known, figure of 20th century Beat culture and beyond. If Smith was only responsible for preserving the folk and blues musical traditions of early America in his Anthology of American Folk Music set from 1952, we would have him to thank for providing a way forward for a young Bob Dylan and the whole of the 60s/70s folk scene.
But Smith was far more than that, he was a filmmaker of astonishing originality, making stop motion animations influenced by 19th advertising art and the elaborate Middle Ages alchemical paintings of Robert Fludd. When I first saw VHS dubs of Smith’s films in the 1980s, I was impressed of course, but as I later learned, in actual fact what I had seen was only a part of what Smith had intended. He made his films as magic lanterns, with several projectors running at once and spinning lamps complementing the central image. When I saw his restored masterpiece No. 18: Mahagonny at the Getty Center in Los Angeles a few years back, it struck me how difficult it must have been to sync up four projectors at once (and the musical accompaniment, a recording of Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny opera).
The restored version of Smith’s celluloid tetraptych was a marvel to behold, with all of the four images now perfectly in time to one another, and looking like a great psychedelic kaleidoscope of imagery taken around New York City, in particular the Chelsea Hotel and its bohemian denizens. Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg and the Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin all make cameo appearances. Seen, digitally restored and as Smith had intended, it was simply breath taking.
Apparently Smith never met a drug he didn’t like and would take any pill, drink any drink, smoke any joint, or snort any powder offered him and he was not at all averse to huffing gasoline, it’s been said, when that’s all that was around. For long periods of time he lived off the kindness of others and borrowed lots of money he had no intention of ever repaying. Yet Smith himself was said to be generous to a fault. Strange anecdotes about Harry Smith abound, many of them collected in two books about him American Magus: Harry Smith (edited by Paola Igliori) and Think of the Self Speaking (edited by Rani Singh, who is Smith’s archivist). My favorite story about Smith is how, if he’d find a pair of glasses, try them on and could see out of them better than the ones he was wearing, he’d toss the old pair in the garbage. Smith also claimed that Aleister Crowley was his father. All in all, you could say he was a colorful guy.
I am reminded of Harry Smith every day. I have one of the original Tree of Life prints that Smith made in the 1950s and gave as a gift to Allen Ginsberg. It’s still in the original brass frame that Ginsberg put it in. His handwriting is on the back in pencil along with a sticker from the Whitney. It’s in our dining room now.
In the last couple of years, New York-based artist M Henry Jones, who worked with Smith and continues to project Smith’s work as it was intended to be seen (click here for a short interview with Jones and some footage of one of his special Smith screenings. It’s really interesting to see, trust me) has put up a few fascinating videos of Smith being interviewed:
The first video is Harry smoking a joint while talking with Patrick Hulsey in New York City in 1999.
In the second video, East Village raconteur, animator, videographer and pop culture archivist M. Henry Jones of Snakemonkey TV recalls and recreates the initial thrill of discovering Harry Smith’s work.
I lived in Manhattan’s East Village from 1984 to 1991 and the sight of the great poet Allen Ginsberg around the neighborhood was a pretty common one, although it was still cool to see him each and every time, I must admit. Now the apartment where Ginsberg lived until the mid-90s has been renovated and come on the rental market. There is a link to the listing today—$1700 for the one-bedroom—on Gothamist:
Left to right: Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Louis Cartwright, Herbert Huncke, William Burroughs, Allen & Peter’s new apartment, 437 East 12th Street, New York City, December 1975. Photographer unknown. (Via)
Above: Allen Ginsberg on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line TV program in 1968.
“The Alchemy of Things Unknown” exhibit intends examines individual works of art in relation to theosophy, sacred traditions and devotional practice. From William Blake’s illuminated works of divine imagination to Carl Gustav Young’s drawings of collective symbolic unconscious, the artists in this exhibition sought after or seek spiritual truths through art making.
Artists include Paul Laffoley, Harry Smith, Marjorie Cameron, Willian Blake, Austin Ossman Spare, Scoli Acosta, Kenneth Anger, Aleister Crowley, Zach Harris, Susan Hiller, Alfred Jenson, Angus MacLise, JFC Fuller, and Marilyn Manson.
Khastoo Gallery, 7556 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-472-6498
Image: “Kwaw”: an undated self-portrait by English occultist Aleister Crowley done in the 1920s, part of the exhibit at Khastoo Gallery through July 31. Courtesy William Breeze.