American Magus

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Harry Smith was neglected during his life but, as more details about his work emerged since his death in 1991, he is now recognised as one of the great visionary outsiders of American art. A painter, experimental film-maker, occultist, musicologist and self-proclaimed urban anthropologist, Smith has been championed by everyone from Bob Dylan ('without Harry Smith I wouldn't have existed') to Beck and the Grateful Dead. For it was Smith who had compiled their most vital resource, the Anthology of American Folk Music LP set (released in 1952, reissued on CD in 1997), that attested to the richness of US roots music before its regional differences were erased by national radio. Igliori, who befriended Smith when he was living in the Chelsea Hotel, NY, shortly before his death, attracted contributions from such enthusiasts and acolytes as Mekas, Ginsberg and Robert Frank. She chronicles his most esoteric enthusiasms (he collected Ukranian Easter eggs and paper airplanes and liked to boast that he was the world authority on string figures), as well as cutting in clips from the films. Whatever his eccentricities, Smith's learning and ingenuity were prodigious. With its stumbling narration (from Igliori herself) and crude mix of film footage, interviews and music, this is not a polished documentary, but Smith is such a wondrously exotic subject it's easy to overlook the formal inadequacies.

By: GM

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Cast and crew

Director: Paola Igliori
Screenwriter: Paola Igliori
Cast: Harry Smith
Jonas Mekas
Allen Ginsberg
Robert Frank
Harvey Bialy