Image Studies

Image Studies

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Patrick Keiller: London


23rd February 2013, 2 – 4 pm
Old Fire Station, 84 Mayton Street, N7 6QT
£4/£2 conc. (Book Tickets)

As part of the Reel Islington Film Festival 2013 I will be introducing one of my favourite films: Patrick Keiller’s London (1994). Here is an extract from my introduction:

London is the sort of film that we experience as being greater than the sum of its parts. Visually, the film is static, slow. If you’re like me, the first time you watch it you’ll get 15 minutes in and think: “Interesting. I wonder what is going to happen?”. A lot does ‘happen’, but not in any narrative sense. Visually this film is of a tradition of new objectivity. We are shown everything as it is, unfiltered, though frequently from a point of view we might not usually adopt.

The text of this film, the script, ambient sounds (added later) and the narrator’s delivery, all contrast with how the film works visually. The text weaves fact and fiction. It plays with literary references, philosophical ideas, statistical data, romantic and speculative pondering – all of which are the ‘findings’ of Keiller’s imaginary, unseen protagonist, Robinson, and all vicariously relayed to us by Robinson’s friend, assistant, lover  – who again we never get to see, but we hear his words (voiced by the actor Paul Scofield).

Through this aesthetic of text and image is rendered London of 1992: A fourth successive Tory election victory has returned a government that Robinson fears has little or no interest in social or cultural affairs. All dominated by the City, and global finance more broadly. Terrorism also has a palpable presence in the capital. In showing all of this, while simultaneously drawing upon vignettes and quotations of nineteenth century England, London paints an allegorical picture of a city (a nation?) in decline.

Keiller has been described a ‘poet of blank statistics’. We watch and hear all in lingering detail. The narrator’s controlled deadpan delivery, combined with static cinematography, gives the film a certain neutral quality – it does not take sides, yet it places everything in a precarious, on-edge position…

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