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September 20, 2015

London (1994)
Director: Patrick Keiller

15998_london_baltic.jpg (300×150)

Synopsis: An unnamed narrator (voiced by Paul Scofield) arrives in London in 1992, and follows his friend, Robinson, across various cityscapes over the course of the year.

Review: This portrait of London in 1992 is one of the most fascinating pieces of art I’ve seen of, and about, the capital city, and its genius is in the very deconstructionist method it uses to conjure a sense of just how inherently strange London’s various visual and aural scapes could seem if you removed them from all dramaturgical context.

The closest category one could find to ascribe Patrick Keiller’s method is ‘fiction essay’. Of course, with the film’s raw materials, the more obvious choice would have been to fashion a conventional documentary – complimenting the images of London with a familiar third-person narration and a more comprehensible historical thread. Instead, Keiller employs Paul Scofield’s unnamed narrator as our conduit, an itinerant wanderer who significantly arrives in London on a cruise ship, and proceeds to dictate the musings and thoughts of another ‘player’ (our ostensible protagonist, Robinson). This effect of having three layers of commentary, and all from unseen sources, imprints this distanced ambience which, combined with the de-dramatised, fixed perspective photography of various London sights, creates an otherworldly feel for the capital – chiming with Robinson’s sense that London is a ‘ghost town’, the first post-historical city, a place that has outlived itself.

Also interesting, particularly with over twenty years perspective, is the 1992 setting. London cannily captures that strange hinterland between the distinctive Thatcher and Blair years, when the UK was stagnating in a seemingly one-state, economically and commercially depressed landscape. Being a sports lover, I particularly appreciated Keiller’s expert, ironic use of framing for two specific venues. There’s the famous, now-departed Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium, with its unsalubrious, neighbouring estates and parks in the foreground, and the iconic Oval cricket ground – forever overshadowed by the huge gas canisters next to it. (September 2015)

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