John Smith : Early Short Films
One of England’s finest avant-garde filmmakers –Smith specializes in a subversive narrative humour. His films are often located among the people and places in his east London neighbourhood where he mixes together a dry comedy with poetic documentary and formal ingenuity.
Nothing is quite what it seems in a John Smith film, but he’ll always lets you in on the joke. His films are always smart, funny, and often astonishingly beautiful. We present a fantastic selection of his early work – all made on 16mm and recently transferred to digital.
Associations, 1975, 7 mins
A film game in which words are replaced by pictures. Associations sets language against itself. Images and words work together and against each other to destroy and create meaning. The text is so dense (contemporary linguistic theory) and the combination of visual puns so extensive that a simple, unique reading of the film is impossible.
The Girl Chewing Gum, 1976, 12 mins
Smith takes the piss out of mainstream auteurist ego, but provides proof of the underground ethos : In a twelve-minute take of an ordinary busy street, a voice-over seems to direct the random events that unfold there. It quickly becomes evident that the scene is not responding to the voice, but vice-versa. Even with meagre mechanical means, the artist can command the universe!
The Black Tower, 1985-1987, 24 mins
Hilarious and menacing : we enter the world of a man haunted by a tower which, he believes, is following him around London. The narrative voice-over takes us from unease to breakdown to mysterious death. The images, meticulously controlled and articulated, deliver a series of colour coded puzzles, games, jokes and puns which pull the viewer into a mind-teasing engagement.
OM, 1986, 4 mins
A film about haircuts, clothes and metamorphosis . We are taken on a journey from one concrete stereotype to its diametric opposite, as images transform and juxtapose which invert our interpretation of what we see and hear.
Slow Glass, 1988-1991, 40 mins
Slow Glass spins immaculately shot puns and paradoxes that play on reflection and speculation – words that refer both to acts of seeing and of mind. Glass is the key, as a narrator’s running commentary sketches the glassmaker’s art, splicing a history lesson with a quasi-autobiography.