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Smart Alek (1993)


Main image of Smart Alek (1993)
16mm, colour, 18 mins
DirectorAndrew Kötting
Production CompanyBFI Production Board
 Channel Four Television Company
ProducerBen Woolford
ScriptAndrew Kötting
PhotographyN.G. Smith

Cast: Sean Locke; Patricia Varley; Bill Monks; Penny Prosser; Stan Nelson; Gavin Wilkinson; Amy Hodge; Simon Munnery

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A family is about to go on their summer holidays. There is an adolescent son: bored, an excited daughter: waiting. A mother and father: fractious at the thought of being together, and a grandmother: sometimes senile, sometimes omnipotent. There is an accident and their cosy world slowly begins to disintegrate.

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In Smart Alek (d. Andrew Kötting, 1993) the everyday nightmare of a family holiday becomes a real and savage nightmare, as a suburban family heading for the English seaside are attacked and left for dead by a spider-tattooed hooligan and his henchmen. A cocky son is reduced to tears as he discovers his injured family. Scenes of the seaside that the family never reach are intercut with the narrative, colour-saturated and speeded-up - a surreal and random portrait of a holiday counterpointing the random violence of the roadside attack.

While short and brutal, Smart Alek shows some of the playfulness that later became Kötting's trademark: the rapid mix of film stocks and textures, and an obsession with the peculiarity of Englishness and the English seaside experience. The 1970s detail is quite particular: a chopper bike, space hopper and the piercing tunelessness of the daughter's descant recorder are all thrown into the rowing family's maelstrom.

The film's final credit reveals that it is based on a true story: the kind of story one would read in a newspaper, as the grandmother at the beginning reads about the death of Mrs Dixon. We're left wondering whether Kötting wants us to laugh or cry at the cruelty of England.

Danny Birchall

*This film is included in the BFI DVD of 'Gallivant'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (18:23)
Kötting, Andrew (1958-)
They Started Here