John Smiths Blight (1996), a collaboration with composer Jocelyn Pook, screens Friday at the Logan Center for the Arts.
  • John Smith’s Blight (1996), a collaboration with composer Jocelyn Pook, screens Friday at the Logan Center for the Arts.

The coming week is packed with experimental- film screenings (though not at the Chicago International Film Festival, which hasn’t presented any experimental work in decades). The most important of these are surely the programs of films by British director John Smith, who will be in attendance for all three. Each program spans the entirety of his five-decade career, meaning you can get a taste of his life’s work even if you attend just one event. The series begins tomorrow at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema at 7 PM, continues at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday at 6 PM, and concludes at the Logan Center for the Arts at U. of C. on Friday at 7 PM. The first and last of these events are free.

“Smith’s work gleefully destabilizes traditional cinema’s formal elements,” writes Nightingale programmer Christy LeMaster at Cine-File. “Often invoking a wry humor and ample political wit, Smith interrogates how the moving image dictates our perception.” This interrogation is generally playful, as the filmmaker often fools the viewer into thinking the sounds and images were recorded simultaneously when in fact they weren’t. As with many avant-garde filmmakers, descriptions of Smith’s work tend to make them sound overly intellectual and fail to convey the pleasure of watching them. I’ve included a few here—his seminal The Girl Chewing Gum (1976) and Blight (1996), his collaboration with composer Jocelyn Pook—so you can see for yourself.*

Also on Friday the Museum of Contemporary Art will screen three dance films by film and video artist Charles Atlas. The screenings represent something of a sneak preview for Come, Been, and Gone, a touring dance performance with visual design by Atlas that comes to the MCA in a few weeks. The choreographer of that piece, Michael Clark, is the subject of Atlas’s fictionalized documentary Hail the New Puritan (1986), screening at 6 and 9 PM. The other films are Walkaround Time (1973), playing at 7:30 PM, and The Myth of Modern Dance (1990), playing at 8:30 PM—they concern Merce Cunningham and Douglas Dunn respectively.

Finally the Nightingale has two events on deck. On Saturday at 7 PM the Noble Square cinematheque will host Wisconsin-based artist Steve Wetzel, who will introduce three short video pieces and read from an upcoming collection of his writings. “Wetzel’s [films] craft portraits of minor league hockey players, tick racers, inventors, and laid-off fisherman, to name a few [subjects]. There’s a Midwesternness, polite but peculiar, that permeates his work,” writes local experimental filmmaker Jesse Malmed for the Nightingale website. On Monday at 7 PM LeMaster returns to Constellation to present Dragonslayer, the second film in the ongoing experimental documentary series Run of Life, which I wrote about here.

*The YouTube clips included here were removed at John Smith’s request.