Friday, 4 December 2009


Themes of mortality and religion permeate experimental animator Harry Smith’s masterwork Heaven And Earth Magic. One would be hard pressed to draw a linear plot from viewing the film alone, but Smith himself has (thankfully) explained the film itself many times before. Having lost a watermelon of particular value to her, a woman endures a terrible toothache and visits her dentist for help. Under his anaesthetic, she begins to experience some bizarre hallucinations, taking her to Montreal and Israel, both presented as slices of heaven on Earth. As she emerges from her delusions, she returns to Earth a deconstructed being. The entire bewildering affair takes place in simple monochrome.

Smith was an infamously peculiar character, whose fascination for the occult and supernatural informed a lot of his work. In addition to his experiments in film and animation, Smith was also a revered musicologist who was best known for bringing blues musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Lemon Jefferson to public attention. Heaven And Earth Magic neatly represents these diverse interests and is thus a very personal work. His manipulation of the icons brings to mind the hypnotic playfulness of later animators such as Jan Švankmajer and Piotr Kamler, and one can be forgiven for forgetting just how old this work is. Those looking for an easy ride will struggle – the film is frequently unintelligible, and the soundtrack is equally exasperating. If you have any interest in avant-garde animation, watch this film immediately. If not, keep a safe distance.

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