Heaven and Earth Magic

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Heaven and Earth Magic
Film still from Heaven and Earth Magic
Directed byHarry Everett Smith
Produced byHarry Smith
Edited byHarry Smith
Distributed byMystic Fire Video[1]
Release date
  • 1962 (1962)
Running time
66 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States

Heaven and Earth Magic (also known as Number 12, The Magic Feature, or Heaven and Earth Magic Feature) is an American avant-garde cutout animation feature film directed by visual artist, filmmaker and mystic Harry Everett Smith.[4]

Originally released in 1957[5], it was re-edited several times and the final version was released in 1962. The film primarily uses cut-out animated Victorian photographs on a black backdrop, and various, often repeated and processed sound effects as an audio collage for its soundtrack.[6] The 66 minute cut of the film has been available on DVD and VHS from the Harry Smith Archives.[7]

It is sometimes screened at one-time cinema events, often with live improvised music instead of the film's soundtrack.[8] For example, it has been screened at John Zorn's Essential Cinema concerts, where a group of musicians perform behind the film.

Plot and narrative[edit]

Smith's explanation of the film has been considered evasive[9]:

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 Müller on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London.[10]

However, this seemingly obscured description was researched in the years following the film's release; P. Adams Sitney uncovered many of the cutout figures as being taken from a periodical that was, in fact, published on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London, which is referenced at the end of the film.[9] As well as this, the first half of the film is outlined as is by Smith, because the heroine becomes under the influence of a powerful anesthetic, and the effect wears off leading to her "return to Earth".[9] Art philosopher Noël Carroll, bringing to light Sitney's research, also analyzed that the film frequently uses water sounds in its soundtrack, and this suggests that many of the on-screen figures and objects are suspended in liquid.[9]

Carroll analyzed that the film featured fantastical imagery inspired by Smith's research of alchemy (which he had self-professed in) and the Hermetic Qabalah, and an analysis of the film has also credited his research of neurological texts such as the work of Dr. Wildner Penfield and Daniel Paul Schreber's Memoirs of My Nervous Illness as contributing to the film's themes, including subconsciously assembled movements and actions, the effects of drugs on the human mind,[11] alchemical figures such as a small figure resembling a homunculus who appears to largely guide most of the film's actions[9] and magical symbols like salamanders and Egyptian sarcophagi.[12]


Heaven and Earth Magic is featured in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

See also[edit]


Re-edited several times between 1957 and 1962. Sixteen millimeter, black & white, mono, initially six hours, later versions of two hours and 67 min. Extended version of Smith's No. 8. Cutout animation culled from 19th-century catalogs meant to be shown using custom-made projectors fit out with color filters (gels, wheels, etc.) and masking hand-painted glass slides to alter the projected image. Jonas Mekas gave the film—which is often regarded as Smith's major work—its title in 1964–65.[13][11]


  1. ^ FilmAffinity
  2. ^ AllMovie
  3. ^ WorldCat.org
  4. ^ MUBI
  5. ^ Chicago Reader
  6. ^ Time Out New York
  7. ^ Heaven & earth magic, 1957-1962-WorldCat.org
  8. ^ Trailer on YouTube
  9. ^ a b c d e Carroll, Noël (1978). Mind, Medium and Metaphor in Harry Smith's Heaven and Earth Magic. University of California Press.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ a b Alchemical Transformations: The Abstract Films of Harry Smith·Senses of Cinema
  12. ^ Tyranny, "Blue" Gene. "Heaven and Earth Magic (1962) - Harry Smith". AllMovie. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  13. ^ [2]

External links[edit]