Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic as a schizo machine

4/2010

Jukka Sihvonen

The article begins by contextualising the classic experimental film by Harry Smith (Film #12 aka Heaven and Earth Magic, 1961) into a biographical ‘life and works’ -context of the author. The aim is to make Smith’s career and works a bit more familiar to the Finnish readership. The second part of the text situates the film into a context of readings made by P. Adams Sitney, Noël Carroll, and Annette Michelson. These readings are set into a critical perspective due to their relentless desire to dig out interpretations and explanations from the film. Moreover, the logic of these interpretations has been if not overtly psychological, at least (and at points, notoriously) psychoanalytical. Smith himself, however, did not seem to care much about these kinds of interpretations even though the notion of the filmic image as a hieroglyph is often repeated in connection to him.

Rather than a ‘text’ to be unlocked, Smith’s film is seen as a machine both embodying and producing various kinds of connections. For this reading the most immediate theoretical framework comes from Anti-Oedipus written by Deleuze and Guattari. The key figure to link this work to Smith’s film is, of course, Judge Schreber and his Memoirs. In its intended viewing context (described by Smith himself) the film is one of the many components of the audio-visual performance that is a kind of mega-machine of sorts in itself. Also on the textual level the film is a compilation of all kinds of machinations, some of them with very long historical roots only partly visible. For the contemporary viewer the film shows how a strange set of linkages from a multiplicity of scientific, cultural, and artistic sources can become a treatment in metamorphosing various layers, nevertheless, without closing or emptying out the strings of meaning embedded in them. The film shows its mechanism even though it also forces the viewer to search for the hidden language.