Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Heaven amd Earth Magic (Smith. 1962)

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Okay, as a music fan who owns the Anthology of American Folk Music I feel guilty about what I am about to write. As a filmmaker, Harry Everett Smith is a hack. He is credited as being one of the most influential minds in experimental art, but like with another experimental movie-maker, Stan Brakhage, I am not convinced that his supporters aren't just joking around. His most famous film, Heaven and Earth Magic, was originally completed in 1957 and according to some sources ran over seven hours long. Personally, I think my eyes would have fallen out of my head if I had been required to watch this trite nonsense for that long.

Luckily for me the film was reedited in 1962 and released with a drastically reduced running time. At a little over an hour, Heaven and Earth Magic is still extremely unpleasant to watch. It has a strange hypnotic tone to it, but that is not enough to save even the most artistically forgiving audience member from extreme boredom. The film has no dialogue and settles for out of place sound effects to tell a seemingly nonexistent story. It does incorporate an interesting style of animation with nothing but paper cut outs being moved shot-by-shot, but the completely black backdrop reiterates the boredom involved in watching. I cannot stress enough how boring this movie is...

After completing the film, I immediately hit the Google box to try and see if anyone could make heads or tails of what was going on. In reality, I don't believe that even the most hardcore Heaven and Earth Magic supporters have any idea what they were talking about. If you want a decent laugh - read some of the user comments that people make about this crap. If you want a bigger laugh - just read this:

"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 Muller on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London."

That, believe it or not, is Smith's explanation of his film. I understand that I have no merit to dismiss an artist's interpretation of his own work, but I did watch the whole damn thing yet never really picked up on any of that stuff. I mean, I did see a watermelon. Other than that, this explanation is lost on me. Smith was an eccentric guy. And this is an eccentric movie. But it almost seems like that entire synopsis serves as mental masturbation. Simply put, none of that happens - not even in an abstract way or whatever...

I am honestly dreading the feedback that this review may get, but I am not willing to waffle on the fact that Heaven and Earth Magic is pretentious crap. Is it art? Sure. Is the animation interesting? Definitely. Does the movie entertain? Not even a little bit. Usually, even with some of the really bad stuff, I learn something from watching a movie. After spending over an hour watching Heaven and Earth Magic I learned two things:

1. Harry Smith had a lot of free time. 
2. Jake Ray needs to get a hobby. 

I hated everything about watching this movie. 

Heaven and Earth Magic: F

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