Skip to main content
Lux OnlineHomeThemesArtistsWorkEducationEducationToursHelpSearch
Artists Artist's home pageArtists essay index page
Michael O' PrayClick here to Print this Page
John Smith
Smith's films are often characterised by his use of authentic East London locations.

He also incorporates characters sometimes played by himself - the self-confessed alcoholic film-maker at the end of Shepherds' Delight, the documenter of domestic minutiae in Home Suite. All of these are fictional figures even if ambiguous at times - is this the real John Smith confessing or John Smith playing himself confessing in Shepherds Delight? In Lost Sound (1998-2001) made in collaboration with Graeme Miller, found sound tapes are played over images of the sites of their discovery. In The Waste Land (1999), he sets the pub scene from Eliot's poem in an emptying pub and then cuts to a shot of a pub toilet in which a tipsy Smith recites other verses from the poem as he urinates. The film ends with the half-drunk Smith leaving the toilet and a lingering shot of the nameplate which should read TOILETS anagrammed to TSELIOT. It's a deceptively simple piece with the autobiographical feel of an imaginary self-portrait, but a portrait nevertheless.

In the perennial audience favourite, The Black Tower, Smith uses a local landmark as the focus for a character's mental breakdown (once again only known through voice-over). It is a story of rising paranoia in the suburbs of London. Smith's powerful and authentic voice-over plays with the audience's tendency to understand the first-person in documentary as a real person. According to Smith viewers have sometimes assumed that he is depicting his own breakdown. This is not to argue that Smith is his characters, but rather that he expresses particular moods, feelings and emotions in his films. It is maybe useful to view his work as primarily self-expression disguised as games, rather than the reverse.

Still from The Black Tower by John Smith, 1985-7
Go to top of                             page