Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Girl Chewing Gum

This superb little documentary from 1976 not only depicts a fascinating slice of London east end life but also raises some important questions about truth, fiction and representation in documentary film-making. Godardian in its ambitions, it uses the representation of a street corner in a Dalston neighbourhood to produce a hilarious montage of effects and questions. To begin with you might think that the narrator is adopting a Tati-esque micro-choreography but the perspective soon shifts...

Watch it for yourself and then you will see...

For a more thorough analysis of John Smith's work, see here.

1 comment:

generalpraxis said...

There's a great interview with John Smith in which he talks more about the process of making the film here.

An extract:

I generally film in familiar places. That was a street at the end of the street I lived on at the time. I wanted to film on a busy street corner. The film came out of seeing Truffaut's Day for Night, which has to do with a film within a film. It's been a long time since I saw it and I might describe it wrongly, but there's a snow scene in the film, in the street, which sets up a situation between two characters, and you see the street being prepared for the filming, which includes machines going down the street spraying the fake snow everywhere. But also, the passers-by in the street are directed. I shot the Girl Chewing Gum in 1975, and I started making films in 1972, so I'd been making films for 3 years. And still, when I saw Truffaut's film it had never occurred to me that the people in the background in Hollywood films were directed. I'd always just thought, "Oh, they're passers-by. The film crew have gone into the street to make the film and they've got access to do things." In Day for Night a dog is directed to piss up a lamppost, or something like that. Anyway, it was a complete revelation to me, and it came at a time when I was surrounded by people who were saying, "Narrative is the power of illusionism, it's evil." The structural materialist kind of approach to film. And I thought, "Goddamn it they're right! I've been had! How can I be making films for three years and not realize that?" Though not narrative films. I'd never had much of a narrative element in my films up to that point. I think The Girl Chewing Gum is the first film I made in which you see a person, more or less anyway. But anyway, Day For Night was what made me want to make that film. I thought, "Okay, I'm going to film on a streetcorner, and I'll use a 400 foot roll of film, and I'll film what happens on the street, and then I'll direct it later." So that was the plan. I went and set up the camera, and there were a couple of things that were planned, like I deliberately set up in a place with a clock because I wanted to direct the hands of the clock. Also, it was great to film by a cinema, because the cinema appearing in the shot becomes a reference to this imaginary space that the audience are occupying. Just by coincidence - it doesn't really figure in the film as you can't see it clearly - the film that's showing in the cinema is The Land that Time Forgot, which is great, really fortuitous. So anyway, I just filmed what was happening, and kind of improvised the camera movement, followed people sometimes, and directed things later. I filmed in a quite obstructive place in the street, and I was hoping that the police would come and stop me filming, so I could direct that, and that would be the end of the film, but of course they didn't. Afterwards, I sat down with the film and worked out the instructions that I was going to give, and with a stopwatch worked out what I could fit in. I did go off to a field in the middle of nowhere, and shouted into a microphone a script I had written directing all those things, then came back, cut it on separate magnetic stock and fitted it in. The street sound that you hear is the sync sound of the street. There's an alarm bell ringing throughout the film, which I found very annoying at the time, but I just had to shoot it then. I was doing the camera, and I had a friend who'd come with me to do the sound recording, and I thought "I've got to do it now." So I had to make it a burglary, with a boy robbing the post office. So I fit all of those accidental things into the scenario, because I'm fascinated by accidents.