“Shortly after I graduated from the Royal College of Art I was asked if I’d like to make a half-hour documentary for Thames TV … I’d already made The Girl Chewing Gum at the RCA as a critique of documentary, particularly of the manipulative power of voice over. So I conceived Hackney Marshes as a kind of anti-documentary too, although it used a completely different strategy. The film revolved around a series of interviews I did with the inhabitants of a high-rise council estate. Like most of us, many of these people had mixed feelings about the place where they lived, some positive and some negative. I included both positive and negative statements by the same residents, which in simplistic conventional documentary terms could have been perceived as contradictory. I wanted to make a film where the viewers wouldn’t take what they were told at face value, to make it clear that I could have made a film which created an entirely negative or entirely positive picture of high-rise living depending on which material I had selected in editing.” John Smith, interviewed in The Quietus, March 2021
“Explicitly challenging all the accepted forms of the TV documentary, John Smith’s important film is extraordinary as the product of a major institution. The dual subjects are the inhabitants of tower blocks in Hackney and the components and conventions of filmmaking. Interviews with the former are cut against a limited sequence of compositions which illustrate and question the soundtrack in a number of distinct ways. Repetition, sharp editing, unlikely images (chalk lines, lift doors closing) and the deliberate reversal of normal devices all work to disorientate the viewer and to force a reconsideration of his or her relationship to the film. Not all of it is quite so intensely intellectual, however – the numbers on the goalposts are used as a clever and funny counterpoint to a discussion of wages and prices. The overall result is, perhaps surprisingly, given the theoretical concerns, a strangely intimate picture of the subjects. Importantly, its success demonstrates the necessity for many TV filmmakers to rethink their safe approaches and accepted techniques." John Wyver, Time Out magazine, August 1978
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