John Smith – The Girl Chewing Gum
Posted by: Seth Nehil
Like Michael Snow’s Wavelength or Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia, this 1970′s structuralist film uses a simple framework to create humor, perceptual shifts, and a commentary on the filmic medium itself. We’re in a topsy-turvy world where everything is reversed, as seemingly casual movements of pedestrians are predicted or controlled by an off-screen director. This action creates an atmosphere of literalism – only actions can be named, not motivations.
As a gesture, this is already strange and funny. There’s something hilarious about the way a stranger follows instruction, turning to the right, putting on glasses, or hurrying across the street. Even though we know that Smith’s directorial power is a trick, due only to his review of the footage and previous preparation, we’re still somehow drawn into this demonstration of filmic illusion.
But then, in the midst of a seemingly straightforward system, Smith allows a small imaginative exuberance. The drift from simple directorial power to bizarre omnipotence shows that literalism isn’t always accurate. Buildings are commanded to “move to the right” while characters “stay in the center.” While this statement is obviously absurd, do we not refer to the sun as “rising” and “setting”?
As with Snow and Frampton, the drift is all the more noticeable because of strict parameters which have been previously established. In the midst of structuralist cinema, there is often a wink – a sneaky bit of drama such as Wavelength‘s “murder mystery” or Nostalgia‘s Lovecraftian ending. In The Girl Chewing Gum, we suddenly enter the internal world of an unassuming stranger, in a manner that both creates and solves a mystery.
How many stories surround us in the anonymous streets?