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John Smith
Humour has been used and explored by Smith throughout his career.

While much of his work centres on the fluid relationship between image and language, it takes different forms. For example, in Associations, Shepherd's Delight (1980-4) and The Waste Land (1999), spoken and written words are directly counterpointed with images for paradoxical or punning effect. Much of this borders on the absurd and has the manic glee associated with a long literary tradition encompassing Lewis Carroll (whose intellectualism Smith shares), Hilaire Belloc and the Dada inspired Marcel Duchamp whose optical-text film has the anagrammatic title Anemic Cinema (1924). But in The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), The Black Tower (1985-7) and Slow Glass (1988-91), Smith explores forms of film narrative, juxtaposing a voice-over with a visual 'narrative'. In his 1986 film Om, he brilliantly uses sounds to confuse the visual track (or is it the other way around?).

Humour is rarely addressed in film theory even though its outstanding practitioners have been some of the cinema's great innovators - Buster Keaton, Luis Bunuel, the Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati - all of whom pushed or unpicked the logic of the medium itself through humour. Smith stands fully in this tradition. In The Girl Chewing Gum, the voice-over (assumed to be that of the director) seems to be guiding every action and mini-event in what is fairly obviously documentary footage. As the voice-over barks out 'instructions' to innocent passers-by and even directs events like pigeons landing on a roof, Smith pays testament to the overconstruction of mainstream narrative films (extras standing in for real crowds etc). The result is sublimely funny for its confusion of directorial omnipotence with our own run-of-the-mill need to control (which Freud believed was at the centre of art itself).

Still from Girl Chewing Gum by John Smith, 1976
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