Context and Conception
Smith often locates the beginning of what one might call his mature period of filmmaking with the production of Associations 1975, the first film he made as an MA student at the Royal College of Art’s Film and Television School.3 However, while still at North East London Polytechnic, Smith made The Hut 1973, a lesser-known yet accomplished film that serves as a bridge between the early abstract works and the interlocking concerns with narrative, humour and cinematic reflexivity that would be central to The Girl Chewing Gum. The Hut begins with a title card reading ‘La hutte’, rendered in a cursive font that invokes the French avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s (fig.2).4 This title is superimposed over an image of an office for boat rental on a lake in Epping Forest, one that looks as if its best days are long in the past. The film begins with a downward tilt over out-of-focus tree branches, accompanied by a female voiceover saying: ‘I was walking through the forest one day, when suddenly I saw it’. The camera comes to rest on the face of a woman in medium close-up, sporting an expression somewhere between startled, frightened and amazed (fig.3). The voice continues, ‘The hut’. Two seconds of flickering alternations between still images of the sea-foam green hut are followed by a cut back to a close-up of the woman’s wide eyes. The film then enters into a montage of various details of the weathered and rusted hut, its paint chipping away (fig.4). As momentum builds, many shots appear to be no more than a single frame. The film comes to a climax with an extremely fast, almost vibrating flicker that finally rests on a frontal shot of the hut. After barely a second, a medium close-up of a young girl appears and the same voiceover returns, exclaiming: ‘I was amazed!’ (fig.5). The girl promptly exits the shot, the camera swiftly zooms out to reveal a clearing in the forest, and the film ends – so abruptly and without explanation that it ventures into the domain of absurdist humour.
How to cite
Erika Balsom, ‘Context and Conception’, September 2015, in Erika Balsom (ed.), In Focus: 'The Girl Chewing Gum' 1976 by John Smith, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www