Close Up

13 October 2022: John Smith: Introspective Programme 2 (1976-78)


In celebration of John Smith’s 50 years of radical filmmaking, and Close-Up present the most extensive survey of his work to date: screening 50 films by Smith, organised into 10 weekly programmes. For the season's full programme visit:

Programme 2 (1976-78)
With John Smith and Erika Balsom in conversation

Summer Diary
John Smith, 1976-7, 30 min

Filmed in London during the summer of 1976, the view from the filmmaker’s window becomes the locus for a series of visual and verbal descriptions of the past and present.   

“The film’s concern lies in memory and the awkward distance between reminiscence and fact, personal accounts and objective phenomena… The function of memory presented through reminiscence and re-enactment presents the subjective at odds with objectifying mechanical devices (such as camera, thermometer, calendar) but engaged in the construction of a personal and historical position.” – Michael Maziere

John Smith, 1977, 6 min

An experiment with densely layered information, commissioned by EMI to explore the possibilities of the newly invented video disc. Gardner was inspired by the man cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s fastest novelist. Erle Stanley Gardner, the mystery writer who created Perry Mason, dictated up to ten thousand words per day and worked with his staff on as many as seven novels simultaneously.

Hackney Marshes - November 4th 1977
John Smith, 1977, 15 min

An improvisation recorded over the course of one day, starting at dawn and finishing after dusk. The film was edited in camera and shot from one camera position in the middle of one of the 112 football pitches that covered Hackney Marsh, a location chosen because of the similarities between the surrounding buildings and objects. Unforeseen events occurring in the vicinity were also recorded, influencing the direction of the subsequent filming. Through selective framing and changes in cutting pace and speed of camera movement, the film fluctuates between record and abstraction.

Hackney Marshes (TV version)
John Smith, 1978, 30 min

“Explicitly challenging all the accepted forms of the TV documentary, John Smith’s important film is extraordinary as the product of a major institution. The dual subjects are the inhabitants of tower blocks in Hackney and the components and conventions of filmmaking. Interviews with the former are cut against a limited sequence of compositions which illustrate and question the soundtrack in a number of distinct ways. Repetition, sharp editing, unlikely images (chalk lines, lift doors closing) and the deliberate reversal of normal devices all work to disorientate the viewer and to force a reconsideration of his or her relationship to the film. The overall result is, perhaps surprisingly, given the theoretical concerns, a strangely intimate picture of the subjects.  Importantly, its success demonstrates the necessity for many TV film-makers to re-think their safe approaches and accepted techniques." – John Wyver

Screening as part of John Smith: Introspective (1972-2022)