Two films by Patrick Keiller.
Patrick was my tutor at Middlesex University, so a touch of nostalgia led me to purchase the BFI’s DVD release of London and Robinson in Space. I think that the tutors were encouraged to present their own to work to the students and I remember that Patrick showed London. This must have been 1994, the year it was released, and the year of my graduation, although I have a feeling it was earlier than that, so we may have seen a pre-release version.
I think I was placed with Patrick as my tutor because of my interest and semi-background in Architecture (Patrick having been an Architect). After leaving school, at age 18, I immediately began the BA in Architecture at Kingston University, which ended ignominiously two years later having not progressed beyond the first year of the course.
The films are wonderfully evocative series of scenes. Having lived in the areas mentioned in London all my life until 5 years ago, it felt very familiar and homely.
The techniques of filming used—the long shots of seemingly bland areas, the static camera, the invisible protagonists—encourage an increased concentration on the scenes in the frame. They also seem to merge the activities taking place into a flat tableau with a distinct emphasis on the artistic presentation of the human and semi-natural landscape. In Robinson in Space almost every scene seemed to be organised around a centered point which becomes the point of focus no matter what else is happening on screen. This also occurs in London, e.g. the very first scenes of the cruise liner being drawn through the almost perfectly framed Tower Bridge.
Strangely, Robinson seems almost rushed in comparison to London. The Narrator has much more information to impart about poets, philosophers and scientists, the history of places, and there is less about the interplay between himself and Robinson. On the whole Robinson is as good as London, but it has a different modus operandi.
I loved both films. They made me think of Proust and boredom and observing the world from a distance.