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London

Patrick Keiller
1994
85mins Colour 35mm

London

Patrick Keiller's extraordinary portrait of London re-imagines the city through the explorations of an unseen 'researcher' Robinson and his similarly unseen companion, the film's narrator (voiced by Paul Scofield).

'The film attempted to combine two strands of critical thinking. On one hand, there was the 'urban' literature of Poe, Baudelaire, Louis Aragon, Walter Benjamin and so on, in the context of which London appeared to be a city where certain kinds of urban experience characteristic of European cities were difficult to find. On the other were the various 'declinist' scenarios of English capitalism, in particular the idea that England was a backward, failing economy because it had never had a successful bourgeois revolution.

'Alongside these predictable concerns, however, was the awareness that Baudelaire was just as fed up with the quartier latin as Robinson claimed to be with London. His problem was not really London, but 'The Great Malady, Horror of Home'. Perhaps this feeling of restlessness, that seemed to be so characteristic of London, was not really such a problem after all. Perhaps it was something to be valued. London might be uncomfortable to live in, but it avoided the more stupefying aspects of dwelling that a less spatially impoverished, more 'architectural' city might encourage. Perhaps London was even, despite its obvious anachronisms, rather modern. Even someone as narrow-minded as Robinson could hardly fail to notice the increasingly cosmopolitan make-up of its population.

P.K. 'London in the Early 1990s' in London, from Punk to Blair (London: Reaktion, 2003)

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