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John Smith
John Smith began making films in the early 1970s.

He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1977 as one of a younger generation of avant-garde filmmakers and became strongly associated with the London Film-makers' Co-op, which had emerged in the 1960s and had become the centre for artists' filmmaking in England. He had made eight films before making Associations (1975), a witty visual rendition of psychological word-play. In the same year he made Leading Light, a film recording light changes in his room over a day and revealing the 'irregular beauty of a familiar space'.

These two early films express two different impulses which run throughout his work. On the one hand, Associations is a highly structured, hermetic work in which an academic voice reads an excerpt from a book on linguistic theory, discussing how people associate words with other words. Smith sets ups his own humorous parallel associations, using images to stand in for words, and sometimes the syllables of words, uttered by the speaker. The images are banal ones, taken from colour supplements and popular magazines. The film comprises black leader with bursts of images appearing in clusters. For example, the utterance 'associations' is represented by images of an ASS, a SEWing machine, the SEA and a group of ASIANS. More obliquely, the image of a judge accompanies the utterance 'sentences'. It is a film of semantic wit, word-play and visual punning.

On the other hand, Leading Light is a 'document' of Smith's immediate world, sieved through the structuring devices of location, time and light. It is a study of light as it moves through a lived-in attic room over the course of a day. At a certain point a folk-song is heard on the soundtrack, apparently coming from the record player we see in the room. In its time, it was a film that fitted in with some of the experiments of such contemporary filmmakers as William Raban (Angles of Incidence) and Peter Gidal (Hall) who often used domestic space as a subject matter for exploring film-structuring devices. However in Smith's film there is also a sense of reverie, of a personality who occupies the room and of an attempt to capture some fleeting quality. Viewed nearly thirty years after, it has a sense of loss and of sadness. While Associations and Leading Light are fairly pure examples of respectively semantic wit and of documentary, his other films often combine both qualities.

Still from Leading Light by John Smith, 1975
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