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Public Places, Private Thoughts
Nicky Hamlyn
Public Places, Private Thoughts
The use of voice-over instead of appearance in a film gives a certain distance to the work, since narration places those events in the past, whereas the visible presence of the filmmaker has a present-tense sense about it.

Sometimes filmmakers remove themselves a degree further by narrating in the third person, or by putting their words into the mouth of a fictitious (and invisible) character. This latter device has been used consistently by Patrick Keiller.

In his film Norwood (1981) the narrator describes his return from France to live in the eponymous south London suburb. His story tells of his attempts to become a property developer there, attempts that are stymied by the scheming, ultimately murderous, builder he has employed. After he is killed he goes to heaven, a place about which he restlessly speculates; will it always be warm and wet? Will he be able to go on holiday? Since it can only be imagined in terms of earthly experience, Heaven turns out, unsurprisingly, to be indistinguishable from earth. In any case film renders all worlds indistinguishable, whether they be real or imagined, dreamed or remembered. (A dreamed bedroom is bound to look like a seen one, for example, because, unlike people, films can make no mental distinction between real and dreamt). In Norwood there is an absolute distinction between the narration (the mental part) and the images of streets and buildings, a proliferation of obdurate matter which reveals nothing about itself. The film feeds our appetite for topography, for places, while simultaneously stressing its dumb inability to convey anything meaningful about those places.

Still from Norwood by Patrick Keiller, 1983
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