Smith, Leader of Newcastle City Council between 1958 and 1965, was a visionary, flawed and controversial politician, convicted of corruption in 1974. The film’s experimental structure was a way of dealing with the uncertainty of the evidence.
Smith handled Public Relations for architect John Poulson, whose bankruptcy revealed the the scale of his bribery. Made in close collaboration with Smith himself, the film reveals his complexity and raises questions about PR, parliamentary consultancies, and the hidden, informal power structure that ties in businessmen with politicians, both local and national. Juxtaposing documentary footage and interviews with a fictional contemporary drama of political corruption, it carried the strapline, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Utopia. Amber was drawn towards the territory of the film out of its critique of the destruction of communities the redevelopment Smith had been central to planning – such as in Byker, documented by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen in the 1970s. A number of the complete original interviews, along with other resources, are made available here.
Amber Films, 85 mins, 1987