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Shepherd’s Delight – An Analysis of Humour

John Smith

UK, 1980 - 1984
35 minutes, Colour, opt, 4:3
Original format: 16mm film
Available formats: 16mm / BluRay / HD Digital file / DVD / Digibeta tape / SD Digital file

‘John Smith is the avant-garde’s most trusted humorist. Shepherd’s Delight is a series of episodes in which image and sound play games with the spectator, challenging his/her wit and powers of perception.’ – David Curtis, programme notes ‘Artist as Filmmaker‘, National Film Theatre .

Many of my films involve humour, but unlike the earlier work Shepherd’s Delight attempts to confront the problem of humour head-on, referring directly (since a large part of the film is composed of jokes and their analysis) to the viewer’s perception of the film itself. The film is largely concerned with how context determines the reading of information. Since the film’s statements oscillate between the deadly serious (concentrating particularly on an examination of the more sinister aspects of humour ) and the totally bogus, with no clearly defined points of changeover, the context is often ambiguous. Hopefully, this strategy undermines both the authority of the ‘serious’ statements and any predictable effect of the ‘jokes’. – J.S.

Shepherd’s Delight turned on the very humour for which Smith is noted, revealing the dark as well as the light side of jokes. Doubt, scepticism and a sense of the arbitrary all pointed to deeper patterns in his films. The opposition of illusionism and materiality, the key motif of the post-war avant-garde cinema, is used here and elsewhere in his work to underpin subtle questioning and undercutting of the authority of the word.’ – A.L. Rees, programme notes ‘Art in Cinema‘, National Film Theatre .