Cinematheque108 Presents: An Evening with John Smith
November 15, 2012, 7:00 P.M.
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Cinematheque108 invites you and a guest to a special presentation of experimantal film:
An Evening with John Smith
About the Films
The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), 12 mins
Shepherd’s Delight (1984-6), 34 mins
Blight (1994-6), 14 mins
Worst Case Scenario (2001-3), 18 mins
The Waste Land (1999), 5 mins.
Total Running Time: 83 minutes
The Girl Chewing Gum
(1976) 12 mins, 16mm, B/W, sound.
“In The Girl Chewing Gum a commanding voice over appears to direct the action in a busy London street. As the instructions become more absurd and fantasised, we realize that the supposed director (not the shot) is fictional; he only describes – not prescribes – the events that take place before him. Smith embraced the ‘spectre of narrative’ (suppressed by structural film), to play word against picture and chance against order. Sharp and direct, the film anticipates the more elaborate scenarios to come; witty, many-layered, punning, but also seriously and poetically haunted by drama’s ineradicable ghost” -- A L Rees, A Directory of British Film & Video Artists, Arts Council of England, 1995
– an ananalysis of humour
(1980-4) 35 mins., 16mm, colour, sound.
Many of my films involve humour, but unlike the earlier work Shepherd’s Delight attempts to confront the problem of humour head-on, referring directly (since a large part of the film is composed of jokes and their analysis) to the viewer’s perception of the film itself. The film is largely concerned with how context determines the reading of information. Since the film’s statements oscillate between the deadly serious (concentrating particularly on an examination of the more sinister aspects of humour) and the totally bogus, with no clearly defined points of changeover, the context is often ambiguous. Hopefully, this strategy undermines both the authority of the ‘serious’ statements and any predictable effect of the ‘jokes’. John Smith, 1984
"Shepherd’s Delight turned on the very humour for which Smith is noted, revealing the dark as well as the light side of jokes. Doubt, scepticism and a sense of the arbitrary all pointed to deeper patterns in his films. The opposition of illusionism and materiality, the key motif of the post-war avant-garde cinema, is used here and elsewhere in his work to underpin subtle questioning and undercutting of the authority of the word." A.L. Rees, "Art in Cinema", National Film Theatre, London 1987
(1994-96) 14 mins, 16mm & video, colour, sound.
Blight was made in collaboration with the composer Jocelyn Pook. It revolves around the building of the M11 Link Road in East London, which provoked a long and bitter campaign by local residents to protect their homes from demolition. The images in the film record some of the changes which occurred in the area over a two-year period, from the demolition of houses through to the start of motorway building work. The soundtrack incorporates natural sounds associated with these events together with speech fragments taken from recorded conversations with local people.
Although it is entirely constructed from records of real events, Blight is not a straightforward documentary. The film exploits the ambiguities of its material to produce new meanings and metaphors, frequently fictionalizing reality through framing and editing strategies. The emotive power of music is used in the film to overtly aid this invention.
"A stunning montage depicts the destruction of a London street to make way for new roads. The rhythmic, emotive soundtrack is partly musical and partly a collage of the residents’ voices. Shots and sounds echo and cross-link in the film’s 14 minutes to reinvent a radical documentary tradition." A.L. Rees "A History of Experimental Film and Video" 1999
Worst Case Scenario
(2001-3) 18 mins, video, B/W and colour, sound.
An exploration of the ambiguities of documentary photographs which develops ideas triggered by a German pun.
Worst Case Scenario starts out as a series of still photographs depicting daily life on a Viennese street corner. The film re-orders and manipulates a selection of these images, and as it progresses the static world slowly and subtly comes to life. As Sigmund Freud casts his long shadow across the city, an increasingly improbable chain of events and relationships starts to emerge.
'This new work by John Smith looks down onto a busy Viennese intersection and a corner bakery. Constructed from hundreds of still images, it presents situations in a stilted motion, often with sinister undertones. Through this technique we’re made aware of our intrinsic capacity for creating continuity, and fragments of narrative, from potentially (no doubt actually) unconnected events." Mark Webber. London Film Festival 2003
The Waste Land
(1999) 5 mins, video, colour, sound.
A personal interpretation of the poetry and letters of T S Eliot which explores the ambiguities of language and space in a scenario built around an anagram.
"A brilliant, absurd staging of Eliot’s The Waste Land in the local pub by the master of irony himself, John Smith. Smith’s use of the subjective camera tradition of independent film takes the viewer on a shaky journey from bar to bog and back again." ‘UK/Canadian Video Exchange’ 2000
About the Guest
JOHN SMITH, Filmmaker
John Smith was born in Walthamstow, East London in 1952 and studied film at the Royal College of Art. Inspired by conceptual art and the structural materialist ideas that dominated British artists’ filmmaking during his formative years, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, he has developed a body of work which deftly subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction. Drawing upon the raw material of everyday life, Smith's meticulously crafted films rework and transform reality, playfully exploring and exposing the language of cinema.
Since 1972 John Smith has made over fifty film, video and installation works that have been shown in cinemas, art galleries and on television around the world and awarded major prizes at many international film festivals. His solo exhibitions include Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2012), Turner Contemporary, Margate (2012), Weserburg Museum for Modern Art, Bremen (2012), Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden (2011), PEER Gallery, London (2011), Pallas Projects, Dublin (2011), Royal College of Art Galleries, London (2010), Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin (2010), Sala Diaz Gallery, Texas (2010), Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2006), Kunstmuseum Magdeburg (2005), Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (2003) and Pearl Gallery, London (2003). Major group shows include 'Image Counter Image', Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012), 'Has The Film Already Started?', Tate Britain (2011-12), Berlin Biennial (2010), ‘The Talent Show’, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and MoMA PS1, New York (2010), Venice Biennale (2007), ‘A Century of Artists’ Film in Britain’, Tate Britain (2004), ‘Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-75’, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2000) and ‘The British Art Show’, UK touring exhibition (1984). John Smith regularly presents his work in person and in recent years it has been profiled through retrospectives at film festivals in Oberhausen, Tampere, St. Petersburg, La Rochelle, Mexico City, Uppsala, Cork, Bristol, Hull and Glasgow.
John Smith lives and works in London. He teaches part-time at the University of East London where he is Professor of Fine Art. He is represented by Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin.
About the Moderator
DAVID E. JAMES, Chair/Professor of Critical Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts
Taking any of David James' courses including History of the International Cinema and Cultural Theory, students have the distinction of learning from a professor who has achieved particular renown as an authority in Asian cinema and avant-garde cinema.
Dr. James has expanded and enriched the cultural scene in Los Angeles, curated countless film programs, worked on museum exhibitions, produced his own film work and published extensively in the arts and popular press, including his latest book The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles.
James’ awards include an NEH Fellowship for College Teachers, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research.
He is the editor of To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground as well as The Hidden Foundation: Cinema and the Question of Class, and has served on the editorial boards of Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Now Time, and Art Week.
Cinematheque108 is an alternative screening series sponsored by the Critical Studies Department at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. The series offers a rare selection of events that highlight noteworthy experimental, documentary, and/or foreign films, many of which can not be seen anywhere else. Cinematheque108 is an educational forum that aims to expand understanding of alternative film and media. All screenings are free of charge and open to the pubic.
The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $10.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Avenue. We recommend parking in outdoor Lot M or V, or Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Please note that Parking Structure D cannot accommodate tall vehicles such as SUVs. Metered parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.
Name: David James