Close Up

20 October 2022: John Smith: Introspective Programme 3 (1978-84)


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 3 (1978-84)
With John Smith and Juliet Jacques in conversation

Double Shutter
John Smith, 1978 / 2018, 7 min

As a reassemblage of two excerpts from Blue Bathrooom (1978), Double Shutter is a distillation of ideas concerning the tension between representation and materiality. An apparently straightforward representational image is gradually revealed to be an artifice, foregrounding the filmmaking process as subject matter. By superimposing and alternating identical framings of three windows filmed by day and by night the film uses their positive/negative qualities to construct and break down representational images and sounds.

John Smith, 1978, 8 min

7P is constructed around the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, juxtaposing similar picture and sound fragments recorded on consecutive days over the Christmas period. When the seemingly predictable structure starts falling apart, nonsensical combinations of word and image begin to acquire their own unfathomable meanings.

Celestial Navigation
John Smith, 1980, 10 min

Celestial Navigation could be seen to work in the tradition of British landscape film in that it incorporates a ‘natural’ element (the Earth’s rotation) into the structure of the film. Filmed in the course of one day on a beach, the film uses pan and tilt movements to follow the shadow of a spade and retain its vertical position in the frame… Many peripheral elements come into the film, adding humour to an otherwise near scientific exercise. The tide comes in, a sandcastle is built and washed away, a cyclist crosses the scene, which all works to incorporate human presence without denying the original strategy.” – Michael Maziere

Light Sleep
John Smith, 1981, 6 min

An experiment in temporal layering involving the parallel development of sound and picture. Shots of the same scenes were superimposed on each other in camera over a number of hours, up to a maximum of about a hundred superimpositions.

Shepherd's Delight (an ananalysis of humour)
John Smith, 1980-4, 35 min

Shepherd’s Delight confronts 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. This strategy undermines both the authority of the ‘serious’ statements and any predictable effect of the ‘jokes’. 

"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

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