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American Magus

A dedicated helmer is overwhelmed by the complexity of her fascinating subject in "American Magus," a hopelessly muddled portrait of fabled art collector, filmmaker, and myth explorer Harry Smith -- still best known for his "Anthology of Folk Music," which influenced (the notably absent) Bob Dylan and many other '60s folksters.

A dedicated helmer is overwhelmed by the complexity of her fascinating subject in “American Magus,” a hopelessly muddled portrait of fabled art collector, filmmaker, and myth explorer Harry Smith — still best known for his “Anthology of Folk Music,” which influenced (the notably absent) Bob Dylan and many other ’60s folksters. Already too fussed over, pic needs one more dispassionate cut before heading to “American Masters” or some other such pubcasting home.

It’s sadly ironic that a man who was obsessed with the systems by which artists and their cultures operated, is given such a disorganized sendoff. In what feels like a very long 90 minutes, pic fails to assign any consistency of typography, framing, or duration to delineate the differences between, say, vintage interviews with contemporaries, period footage and clips from Smith’s own avant-garde film efforts. Auds end up without a sense of his personal relationships and, worse, without a grasp of the criteria he used to gather evidence of the world’s rich phenomena. Pic is further hindered by pic-maker Paola Igliori’s rushed and heavily accented narration.

American Magus

U.S.

  • Production: An Inandout Digital Prods. (New York) production. Produced, directed, written by Paola Igliori.
  • Crew: Camera (color, BetaSP), Igliori, Brian Sarkinen, Alan Steinfeld; editors, Taryn Fitzgerald, Dan Crystal; sound, Dave Acocella, John Ivory. Reviewed on vidcassette at Vancouver Film Festival, Sept. 26, 2002. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Harry Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, Paola Igliori, narrator.