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John Smith: Program 1

"The films of John Smith conduct a serious investigation into the combination of sound and image, but with a sense of humour that reaches out beyond the traditional avant-garde audience. His films and videos move between narrative and absurdity, constantly undermining the traditional relationship between the visual and the aural. By blurring the perceived boundaries of experimental film, fiction and documentary, Smith never delivers what he has led the spectator to expect."

—Mark Webber, Leeds International Film Festival catalogue 2000

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 Associations John Smith 00:06:30 1975 United Kingdom
2 The Girl Chewing Gum John Smith 00:12:00 1976 United Kingdom
3 The Black Tower John Smith 00:24:00 1987 United Kingdom
4 Gargantuan John Smith 00:01:00 1992 United Kingdom
5 Om John Smith 00:04:00 1986 United Kingdom


John Smith
1975 | 00:06:30 | United Kingdom | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | Film


Images from magazines and color supplements accompany a spoken text taken from Herbert H. Clark’s “Word Associations and Linguistic Theory” (in New Horizons in Linguistics, ed. John Lyons,1970). By using the ambiguities inherent in the English language, Associations sets language against itself. Image and word work together and against each other to destroy and create meaning.

Associations is a straightforward rebus — a game in which words are replaced by pictures. But the text is so dense with contemporary linguistic theory, and the combination of visual puns so extensive, that a simple, unique reading of the film is impossible.”

— A.L. Rees, Unpacking 7 Films (1980)

This title is also available on John Smith: Program 1.

The Girl Chewing Gum

John Smith
1976 | 00:12:00 | United Kingdom | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 16mm film


“In The Girl Chewing Gum a commanding voiceover appears to direct the action in a busy London street. As the instructions become more absurd and fantasized, 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 and Video Artists (Luton, UK: Arts Council of England/University of Luton Press, 1996)

This title is also available on John Smith: Program 1.

16mm film transfered to video

The Black Tower

John Smith
1987 | 00:24:00 | United Kingdom | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | 16mm film


"John Smith uses humour to repeatedly subvert and frustrate potentially threatening content in an economically constructed tale of the narrator’s descent into paranoia and, ultimately, oblivion, as he is pursued, haunted, and finally destroyed by a mysterious peripatetic black tower. Throughout, both verbal and visual imagery are low key to the point of banality; shots of familiar inner city landscapes—terraces, tower-blocks and scruffy wastelands—are set against a narrative that is laconic and bathetic in the best traditions of English suburban comedy. There is a (frequently hilarious) reflexive relationship between sound and image and while the early sections appear to pursue a conventional storyline, this is gradually undermined by an increased emphasis on and deliberate misuse or overplaying of filmic conventions. The tower becomes a ‘trick of the imagination’ as the disappearing cars are shown to be a trick in the editing."

—Catherine Lacey, The Elusive Sign: British Avant Garde Film and Video 1977-87

"In The Black Tower we enter the world of a man haunted by a tower which, he believes, is following him around London. While the character of the central protagonist is indicated only by a narrative voiceover which takes us from unease to breakdown to mysterious death, the images, meticulously controlled and articulated, deliver a series of colour-coded puzzles, jokes and puns, which pull the viewer into a mind-teasing engagement. Smith’s assurance and skill as a filmmaker undercuts the notion of the avant-garde as dry, unprofessional and dull, and in The Black Tower we have an example of a film which plays with the emotions as well as the language of film."

—Nik Houghton, Independent Media.

"The hilarious and slightly menacing The Black Tower is one of the most accomplished films to come from the British avant-garde for years."

—Michael O’Pray, Independent Media.

This title is also availalbe on John Smith: Program 1.

16mm film transfered to video


John Smith
1992 | 00:01:00 | United Kingdom | English | Color | Stereo | |


“To master the one-minute time span requires considerable discipline, and few pieces, if any, had been shaped as genuine miniatures—most having the appearance of being extracts from larger works. The notable exception was John Smith’s Gargantuan, which was not only the right length for the idea, but actually incorporated a triple pun on the word ‘minute.’”

— Nicky Hamlyn, “One Minute TV 1992”, Vertigo (Spring 1993)

"A wonderfully witty example of how to conduct pillow talk with a small amphibian."

— Elaine Paterson, Time Out London

This title is also available on John Smith: Program 1.


John Smith
1986 | 00:04:00 | United Kingdom | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | 16mm film


A film about haircuts, clothes, and image/sound relationships.

"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

This title is also available on John Smith: Program 1.