Close Up

12 January 2023: John Smith: Introspective Programme 4 (1985-92)


Programme 4 (1985-92)

Following the recent sold-out “John Smith: Introspective (1972-2022)” season at Close-Up and the ICA, this is one of two chronological programmes initially shown at the ICA that will be presented again by Close-Up.

John Smith will be present at the screening to talk about the films.

John Smith, 1986, 4 min

"This is hardcore cinema." – Peter Kubelka

"This four-minute film explores our response to stereotypes – aural, visual and ideological.  Smith signals these stereotypes to the viewer through a chiefly associational system, which deftly manipulates the path of our expectations. The structure is stunningly simple and deceptively subtle. We are taken on a journey from one concrete stereotype to its diametric opposite, as images transform and juxtapose to, ultimately, invert our interpretation of what we see and hear." – Gary Davis  

The Black Tower
John Smith, 1985-7, 23 min  

"Smith’s 'accidental horror' film wears its constructivist tricks as a primary-coloured cloak around the barest of wireframe figures. That Smith dismisses the plot as secondary to the film itself reveals more about his artistic leanings than any supposed embracing of genre, and the fractured realism and creeping terror of the story plays out despite and because of them. Enchanting and good-humoured (as with almost all of Smith’s films), The Black Tower tells a singular story of architectural horror and madness worthy of the ungovernable geographies of Machen, Welles, or Lovecraft, situating itself firmly in the quotidian grit of Thatcher’s Britain. Constantly pointing to its own telling, as well as the mode and method of that telling, Smith’s film questions the viewer’s own certainty even as the narrator loses theirs." – Thogdin Ripley  

John Smith, 1987, 3 min  

This film was originally made for Dungeness: The Desert in the Garden, a multi-media theatre production directed by Graeme Miller. Through selectively framing and alternating monochrome fields within the Dungeness landscape the film creates a series of abstract rhythms. Incidentally, and unbeknown to the artist until years after filming, Dungeness features a guest appearance from Derek Jarman’s then recently acquired Prospect Cottage.    

John Smith, 1992, 1 min  

“A gigantic reptile fills the frame as Smith begins to sing. The manipulative power of script and framing in film and video is sharply yet playfully highlighted in a single shot.” – Helen Legg  

Slow Glass
John Smith, 1988-91, 40 min  

"The film begins with a shout in the street and a smashed pane and ends with a bricked-up window. Between these literal images of opening and closing, 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. The cutting of glass is matched to the editing of film, and the camera’s lens to the surface which it captures. Through the pub-talk and the downing of glasses, other themes emerge; among them is the constancy of change, as the face of London alters and the past becomes present (conveyed in jump-cuts showing streets and shops changing over time and season, and in a gently ironized evocation of a 50’s childhood). The flowing Thames echoes the theme of flux, but also underscores the renewed attacks on East London life in the age of the property war – another kind of speculation. Slow Glass suggests that the living past has been turned into capitalized ‘Heritage’, that the British Documentarists’ noble craftsman only survives as a museum piece, and that reality in film is itself a fiction. In this film, the fiction is a crafted illusion that always has a human face." – A.L. Rees

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