John Smith: Associations and Ambiguities
Sunday November 18, 2012, 7:30 pm
Los Angeles Filmforum presents
John Smith: Associations and Ambiguities
John Smith in person from the UK!
At the Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028
Tickets: $10 general; $6 students/seniors; free for Filmforum members.
Filmforum continues bringing renowned experimental film artists from elsewhere this season with an extremely rare visit from the UK of filmmaker John Smith, who last came to Los Angeles in the 1980s! Note the change in location for tonight. These shows are partly a retrospective, and partly the Los Angeles premieres of a number of recent works.
"The films of John Smith create a world from the 'simple' experiences of living, breathing and being a filmmaker or artist in a particular place and time. Smith's often humorous films produced over the last 30 years have inventively documented and probed his immediate surroundings, often not even moving much beyond the front door of his various abodes in a small area of East London. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to describe Smith's films as overly delicate, preciously insular or purely personal assignations that the previous description might suggest as his work sees within the minutiae of familiar surroundings a range of philosophical, aesthetic, technical and quotidian challenges and revelations that extend far beyond the realm of much other comparable cinema. In film after film, Smith explores the cracks within and the tribulations of the world he confronts everyday, taking a closer look at and often transforming (verbally, associatively, just by observing from a different angle) things like a pane of glass, the discolorations of a mouldy ceiling, a hospital water-tower, the archaeology of an ancient toilet, an old shepherd's proverb, or a work he was unhappy with some 20 odd years before. In the process, he makes us look more closely, not just at his films and the cinema generally, but our own surroundings, the everyday world that engulfs us but that we probably routinely dismiss as a suitable subject for contemplation, art and imagination." -- From 'On the Street where You Live: The Films of John Smith' by Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema, 2003
"The films of John Smith are among the most widely seen and appreciated of the UK avant-garde. Rigorous in structure and highly crafted in making, they extend the logic of language to question the authority of the image and the word. Among the complex features of these films is perhaps an attempt to sidestep, in a knight's move, Brecht's critique of cinema, his "fundamental reproach" that a film is "the result of a production that took place in the absence of an audience". In John Smith's films, the spectator is a producer as well as a consumer of meaning, bound in to the process but simultaneously distanced from the 'naturalness' of the film dream."-- From 'Associations: John Smith and the artists' film in the UK', by A L Rees, 2002
"One of the most talented filmmakers of the postwar generation, he has attracted admirers from way beyond the narrow confines of the Avant Garde. His reputation rests on a quite unique sensibility which has successfully married three traits - humour, documentary and formal ingenuity - into an indissoluble whole."-- Michael O'Pray, Art Monthly, 2002
This is the third of four shows. The first is at USC Cinematheque 108 on Thursday Nov 15; the second is at Filmforum at the Echo Park Film Center on Friday Nov 16, and the fourth is at Cal Arts on Tuesday Nov 20.
Special Thanks: Steve Anker, Bérénice Reynaud; David James
Om (1986, 4 mins.)
"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, 1999
Associations (1975, 7 mins)
Images from magazines and colour supplements accompany a spoken text taken from Word Associations and Linguistic Theory by Herbert H Clark. By using the ambiguities inherent in the English language, Associations sets language against itself. Image and word work together/against each other to destroy/create meaning.
"Associations is a straightforward rebus (a game in which words are replaced by pictures). But the text is so dense (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, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1980.
Gargantuan (1992, 1 min.) Los Angeles Premiere!
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, Ikon Gallery exhibition guide, 2006
Slow Glass (1988-91, 40 mins.)
"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 authority of word, voice and picture is questioned through the film's gradual revelation of its own (highly pleasurable) artifice. 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, 1991
The Kiss (collaboration with Ian Bourn) (1999, 5 mins.)
"A particularly beautiful lily seems to grow before our eyes, gradually changing shape; what sounds like breathing on the sound track gives it an almost human presence. Suddenly the sound and movement stop as a glass plate, invisible until now, cracks and it seems we've been watching, in Smith's words, "the forced development of a hothouse flower". The effect is not only iconoclastic in the word's original sense image breaking but causes the viewer to question the degree of artifice in all 'nature' today." Fred Camper, Pushed to the Limit Films and Videos by John Smith, Chicago Reader magazine, September 2001
Throwing Stones (Hotel Diaries 3) (2004, 11 mins.) Los Angeles Premiere!
As the camera looks out through a barred window and the clock strikes four in a Swiss city, the death of Yasser Arafat provides the starting point for a journey back in time.
Throwing Stones is the third episode in the Hotel Diaries series.
"These deceptively unassuming works consist of single takes from the point of view of Smith's camcorder as he explores the nocturnal spaces of hotels he is staying
in and delivers monologues on his thoughts and observations. At once politically concerned and very funny, these brilliantly structured ramblings connect the observations of his surroundings with the horror of world events in consistently surprising ways." Maximilian Le Cain, Film Ireland magazine, 2004
Flag Mountain (2010, 8 mins) Los Angeles Premiere!
A view across the border in Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus, from the rooftops of the Greek Cypriot south to the mountains of the Turkish Republic in the north, where a display of nationalism is enhanced by filmic means. Moving between macro and micro perspectives, Flag Mountain sets dramatic spectacle against everyday life as the inhabitants of both sides of the city go about their daily business.
Dad's Stick (2012, 5 mins.) Los Angeles Premiere!
Dad's Stick features three objects that were shown to the artist by his father shortly before he died. Two of these were so well-used that their original forms and functions were almost completely obscured. The third object seemed to be instantly recognizable, but it turned out to be something else entirely. Focusing on these ambiguous artifacts and events relating to their history, Dad's Stick creates a dialogue between abstraction and literal meaning, exploring the contradictions of memory to hint at the character of a dead father and his relationship with his son.
John Smith was born in Walthamstow, East London in 1952 and studied film at the Royal College of Art. Inspired by conceptual art and the structural materialist ideas that dominated British artists' filmmaking during his formative years, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, he has developed a body of work which deftly subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction. Drawing upon the raw material of everyday life, Smith's meticulously crafted films rework and transform reality, playfully exploring and exposing the language of cinema.
Since 1972 John Smith has made over fifty film, video and installation works that have been shown in cinemas, art galleries and on television around the world and awarded major prizes at many international film festivals.
His solo exhibitions include Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2012), Turner Contemporary, Margate (2012), Weserburg Museum for Modern Art, Bremen (2012), Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden (2011), PEER Gallery, London (2011), Pallas Projects, Dublin (2011), Royal College of Art Galleries, London (2010), Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin (2010), Sala Diaz Gallery, Texas (2010), Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2006), Kunstmuseum Magdeburg (2005), Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (2003) and Pearl Gallery, London (2003). Major group shows include 'Image Counter Image', Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012), 'Has The Film Already Started?', Tate Britain (2011-12), Berlin Biennial (2010), 'The Talent Show', Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and MoMA PS1, New York (2010), Venice Biennale (2007), 'A Century of Artists' Film in Britain', Tate Britain (2004), 'Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-75', Whitechapel Gallery, London (2000) and 'The British Art Show', UK touring exhibition (1984). John Smith regularly presents his work in person and in recent years it has been profiled through retrospectives at film festivals in Oberhausen, Tampere, St. Petersburg, La Rochelle, Mexico City, Uppsala, Cork, Bristol, Hull and Glasgow.
John Smith lives and works in London. He teaches part-time at the University of East London where he is Professor of Fine Art. He is represented by Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin. http://www.johnsmithfilms.com
Filmforum's screening series is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission; the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the Metabolic Studio; and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. Additional support generously provided by American Cinematheque. We also depend on our members, ticket buyers, and individual donors.
Coming Soon to Los Angeles Filmforum:
Nov 18 John Smith, from the UK
Dec 2 - Empty Quarter, with Alain LeTourneau and Pam Minty in person from Portland
Dec 5 Gunvor Nelson in person from Sweden, last Los Angeles appearance!
Dec 9 Ann Arbor Film Festival 50th Anniversary Tour
Los Angeles Filmforum is the city's longest-running organization screening experimental and avant-garde film and video art, documentaries, and experimental animation. 2012 is our 37th year
Memberships available, $70 single, $105 dual, or $50 single student
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Spielberg Theater at the Egyptian
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
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