The Girl Chewing Gum
(1976) 12 mins. B/W. Sound. 16mm.
“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
“In a twelve-minute take of an ordinary busy street, a voice-over seems to direct the random events that unfold there. It quickly becomes evident that the scene is not responding to the voice, but vice-versa. Through staggering image and sound track, the voice seems to gain powerful authority over the scene, predicting events that the images thus confirm. How much is this simple trick like viewing the evening news? Much like Chris Marker’s best work, Smith’s film exposes the constructedness of the real in a way that is fundamentally destabilizing.” Collier White, review of exhibition at Artists Space, New York 2007
“In relinquishing the more subtle use of voice-over in television documentary, the film draws attention to the control and directional function of that practice: imposing, judging, creating an imaginary scene from a visual trace. This ‘Big Brother’ is not only looking at you but ordering you about as the viewer’s identification shifts from the people in the street to the camera eye overlooking the scene. The resultant voyeurism takes on an uncanny aspect as the blandness of the scene (shot in black and white on a grey day in Hackney) contrasts with the near ‘magical’ control identified with the voice. The most surprising effect is the ease with which representation and description turn into phantasm through the determining power of language.” Michael Maziere, ‘Undercut’ magazine 1984
“Smith takes the piss out of mainstream auteurist ego, but provides proof of the underground ethos: Even with meagre mechanical means, the artist can command the universe.” Ed Halter, ‘Village Voice’ 2003
“John Smith’s improbable treatise on representation has deservedly become a Co-op classic.” Ian Christie, ‘Time Out’ 1980