John Smith & William Fowler – A Cinematic Evening with John Smith

Blight (1994-96), Still from Film (C) John Smith


We are delighted to be partnering with Stow Film Lounge to present an evening with John Smith who will be partaking in a Q&A with BFI Artists’ Film Curator William Fowler, as well as showing some of his work. John Smith attended Walthamstow School of Art from 1969 – 1973.

The Girl Chewing Gum (1976, 12 mins)

View an extract here.

“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 realise 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, 1995

The Black Tower (1985-7, 24 mins)

View an extract here.

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 voice-over 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. Nik Houghton, Independent Media 1987

Blight (1994-96, 14 mins) View an extract here.

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. –John Smith

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“John Smith was born in Walthamstow, East London in 1952 and studied film at the Royal College of Art, during which time he became involved in the activities of the London Filmmakers Co-op. Inspired in his formative years by conceptual art and structural film, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, he has developed an extensive body of work that subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction. Often rooted in everyday life, Smith’s meticulously crafted films playfully explore and expose the language of cinema.

Since 1972 Smith has made over fifty film, video and installation works that have been shown in independent cinemas, art galleries and on television around the world and awarded major prizes at many international film festivals. He received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2011, and in 2013 he was the winner of Film London’s Jarman Award. John Smith’s films, videos and installations are the work of a master craftsman and a maestro of deception. As such, they offer multiple access points – thematic, formalist – whilst being irrefutably entertaining. Form and content are intrinsically bound together, puzzles to play with, to partially solve, as we are instructed not only in ways of seeing, but in an understanding of film predicated on demystifying its oft-masked means of construction.” From ‘Information: Suspect, Construction: Evident’, Ian White, Oberhausen International Short Film Festival catalogue essay, 2002


William Fowler joined the BFI in 2005 as the archive’s first dedicated curator of artists’ moving image. Since then he has undertaken a number of film restoration projects, seasons and DVD releases. He conceived and co-programmes the BFI Southbank strand Essential Experiments and co-conceived and co-programmes with Vic Pratt the popular monthly programme The Flipside; he also presents films internationally.

He has written for The Guardian, Sight & Sound, Eikon and Framework, as well as BFI Screenonline and the Mediatheques. His curatorial projects have included Gazwrx: The Films of Jeff Keen, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow and Visionary Landscapes — the last presented with LUX. His BFI DVD and film season The Lacey Rituals: Films by Bruce Lacey (and Friends), which featured a brand new film by Nick Abrahams and Turner Prize-winner Jeremy Deller, was launched in 2012.

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