Film No. 1


When creating most of his films, Harry Smith was usually under the influence of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol. During the making of No. 1, Smith claims to have been under the influence of marijuana. No. 1 is a film that is approximately five minutes long and is described by Smith as a "hand-drawn animation of dirty shapes-the history of the geologic period reduced to orgasm length." Smith used batiked abstractions which were made directly on film. To "batik" abstractions means to hand-dye fabric using wax as a repellent to cover the parts of the film not to be dyed.

No 1. is a bright, eccentric film that has a certain rhythm that creates vibrations. There are hard edged squares in the film that cause a vibration at the beginning, middle, and end of the film. Various geometric shapes are used in the five minute film, which are very unstable. Throughout the film, triangles and rectangles are shown, as well as squares which change to circles and vice versa. The positions and colors of the shapes are constantly changing, as well as the texture and structure of the shapes. For example, at some points throughout the film, the base of the film becomes a splattered image and one that is blurry and unclear.

There are two known changing levels in Film No. 1 that reflect the instability of the film. These two bases are that of base and that of figure. There are changes in both of these levels that continuously occur and that also simultaneously take place. There is a conclusion to the instability which is noticeable during the film when "two flashes, first eight frames long, then eleven, of irregular yellow and red shape" appear.

As one can see, Film No. 1 is one that is centered around the idea of instability and abstractions. The film is very unpredictable and random. As Sitney states in an effort to help summarize the film: "In No. 1 the film-maker recognized the essential instability of a drawn line which has to repeat itself twenty-four times a second. He (Smith) elaborated the form of his film out of this basic instability, exaggerating it and mimicking it in structural and textural ways. The batiking process removed the essential vibration of the line. Smith responded to this fact with more rigorous rhythmic form, a heightened centrality of imagery, a smoother balance of colors, and a strict reliance on basic geometrical figures."
--Erin Zagaski

Sitney, P.(1979). Visionary Film:The American Avant-Garde 1943-1978. New York:Oxford University Press.

Harry Smith Work