Love Letters – The Black Tower

The Black Tower, by John Smith, film still.

I am keen on a lot of films by John Smith, but my favourite is ‘The Black Tower.’ When I think of this film I envisage the ‘black tower’ of the title silhouetted against a bright blue sky. Then the textures of a London suburb – brick walls, railings and the odd bit of greenery. Immediately I love this work on a visual, visceral level. All of the shots are beautifully composed and the colours – a slightly heightened version of reality – are gorgeous.

Then I love its structure, its conceit. It is neat and clever. The film depicts an empty urban landscape but we hear, on the soundtrack, a monologue voice-over that tells the story of a man who inhabits these streets. We see what he sees and what he sees is the black tower (an industrial structure – possibly a water tower – that looks part minimalist sculpture and part archetype house). At first it is innocuous. He just notices it in passing. Then he becomes consumed by it, obsessed that it is following him. Over a period of several months he sees it everywhere he goes and we follow him and his descent into madness.

The tower has been filmed from many different angles and locations and the way shots are cut together makes the tower appear as if it is moving. I enjoy imagining the filmmaker walking the streets, seeking out vantage points. I like the thought of him alighting on the tower as a motif and then constructing the work around this. The pacing of the film is perfect – starting slowly and then becoming fast and tense as the man becomes unsettled. As I write I can imagine the soundtrack of running feet and multiple, fast cutting shots of the tower at the film’s mid-point climax.

Each time I watch the film I notice something new; a word/image interplay that had eluded me before. Or I remember an element I’d forgotten. It’s a work that’s very simple in concept but complex and multi-layered in execution.