Bonfire Night, 2011

November 28, 2011 | Filming | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One of the most significant sets of shots I missed in 2010 was Bonfire Night. There are a lot fewer – if any – true, public bonfires in London any more, so I went to a private one, at a suitably Keiller-esque location on the Thames.

(Shots 371-376)


February 22, 2011 | Uncategorized |

The London project is ongoing, but as several key dates were unavoidably missed in 2010, the project will now pick up and continue in the second half of 2011.

Then and Now

November 25, 2010 | News,Notes | Tags: ,




“New” phone boxes replaced with “old” phone box, only to be smashed by “new” demonstrations when I should have been out filming them to contrast with the “old” demonstrations.

Robinson in Ruins

October 21, 2010 | Uncategorized |

First, housekeeping: I’ve got a bit behind on the filming, and it’s only going to get worse. So just a note that this is now a two-year project (at least), and there won’t be much more filming this year. Oh well, onwards!

Screen shot 2010-10-21 at 18.35.16

Today, I saw Keiller’s new film, Robinson in Ruins, at the NFT. You should go see it. It’s good. I probably need to go see it several more times to tease some more aspects out of it, but here are the headlines, culled from my notes written in the dark.

The major difference to the first two films is that, following the death of Paul Scofield, the film is narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, who takes on the role of a lover of the previous narrator. Robinson, following his release from an institution, has been renting a house in Oxford and conducting his customary researches in the area. However, he has disappeared, and all that remains are a number of cans of 16mm film found in a caravan.

References to the earlier films come early and regularly. “The Great Malady” is mentioned. Crucially, where Robinson once examined the surface of the Thames, his view has widened, and in a near-exact repetition believes that “if he looked closely enough at the landscape, it might reveal the molecular basis of historical events – and, perhaps, the future.”

Robinson’s background is filled in: he is not English, but arrived from Berlin in 1966. No more details are given about this, or about his institutionalisation.

The film charts Robinson’s explorations of Southern Oxfordshire, and particularly the Cherwell valley. Recurrent concerns include meteors and the enclosures and counter-enclosure movements of the 19th century, notably the Otmoor riots of 1830-1850. The film takes place throughout 2008, against the background of the first phases of the financial crisis: the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehmann Brothers, the failure of HBOS and other banking groups, and the government’s attempts to prop them up (the tone is not unlike that of Black Wednesday detailed in London).

Lichens are a theme too, and extending out of them an examination of the countryside. As previously the urban environment was seen to be a network of sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit private interests, whether Royal or Governmental, so the rural landscape is peeled back to reveal British and American Air Force bases, Atomic Weapons Establishments and fuel depots – all connected by electrical and oil pipelines. A particular study is made of the Government Pipelines and Storage System, which Robinson follows from site to site. (The word “site” itself becomes a particular totem: Sites of Special Scientific Interest revealed as loaded with history and unnatural meaning.)

The countryside is militarised and industrialised. Long meditative shots of wheat and maize harvests in bright sunlight are undermined by export and consumption figures. Most of what we grow goes to feed animals or the poor of other countries.

Robinson is still the idealist. One strand of his interests concerns flowers: he describes himself as biophiliac, a lover of life, while denouncing modern neo-Darwinism as “a capitalist cost-benefit analysis of Darwin’s ideas”. Following “a moment of experiential transformation”, his declared project is to reform land ownership and local democracy through experimental settlements at sites of extraordinary biomorphic architecture. This project causes him to get back in touch with the original narrator, lover of the present one, and together they plan a funded body based on Robinson’s “founding vision”, set up after the 2010 election.

There is much more to be explored here, obviously. It’s worth noting the additional personal strangeness of this film. After London (after London), the Oxfordshire landscape is the one I know best in England, having spent large parts of my childhood there, including in the Cherwell valley.

Robinson and Keiller see a landscape, urban or rural, that we pass through all the time, but rarely scrutinise. Keiller makes images of them, interrogates them, in a way that others do not. We may learn more of David Kelly, for example, from Keiller’s careful skirting of his personal landscape than we ever will from investigative journalism.

Back in May, at Q&A I attended with Keiller, he mentioned that this film introduced a supernatural element which had not been present in his films before. This appears to have been a quiet joke – with one exception. Somewhere near Tetsworth, the narrator (or perhaps Robinson) notes that, for a brief period, the path of the pipeline that is being followed beneath the ground follows that of St Michael’s Line, the best known Ley in England. It is a rare moment of explicit psychogeography from Keiller – but the whole film feels more sentimental, if still reserved: closer to the earth, and more demanding of it.

That’s all for now.

A (very) incomplete list of locations: Oxford (particularly Broad Street), Cowley, the Kennington roundabout, the Physic Well at Cumnor, Harrowdown Hill (site of the death of Dr David Kelly). the Ridgeway path, Aldermarston and Greenham Common, Silchester, Crookham House, Thatcham, Padworth Common, Tetsworth, Junction 6 of the M4, Westcott rocket range, RAF Upper Heyford, Islip, the John Radcliffe Hospital, Beckley, Otmoor, Hampton Gay, Enslow Hill, and a milestone on the Aberystwyth Coach Road, 58km from London.


August 31, 2010 | Filming | Tags: , , , ,

I went to Carnival on Sunday. It was brilliant, as always. I filmed in the morning, when it rained a bit. The sun came out in the afternoon, but I was too busy dancing by then to reshoot.

Autumn approacheth. Much to be done.

The Second Expedition

July 12, 2010 | Expedition,Filming |

On Friday, only a couple of weeks late, I set out to walk the Second Expedition, from Stockwell to Stoke Newington. In the film, this journey takes place over two days, with a break in the middle for the Trooping of the Colour, which I attended a couple of weeks ago.

Shot 173

The walk actually started in Brixton Market, as I, accompanied by a friend, picked up a few other South London shots in Brixton and Clapham North, location of Apollinaire’s obsession.

Shot 202

The expedition starts officially at Stockwell Bus Garage, a magnificent building.

Stockwell Bus Garage

Stockwell Bus Garage

Shot 209

And proceeds up Clapham Road to the old red brick of the Belgrave Hospital for Children, now converted into flats, and its signage removed, and the social housing around Oval station. Sadly, the WWII stretchers that once surrounded these buildings as railings have been removed in the last decade (although they survive elsewhere).

Shot 211

Around Elephant & Castle, Keiller dwelt on the post-war prefab homes that lived on, perilously, in front of the London Park Hotel, a former hostel and hotel. The prefabs are gone now, and the Hotel demolished to make way for new development – although its empty plot stands with no hint of what’s to come, in the newly revealed shadow of the old Lambeth Hospital water tower. Keiller’s concern was for the fragility of these dwellings; in their place with have an already nostalgic Blairism: dead building sites ringed with hoardings exalting us to “Build a Better Britain”.

Water Tower

Did I mention it was the hottest day of the year? The Elephant was a furnace, and Keiller had predictably chosen a difficult vantage point: an exposed roundabout, with no pedestrian access. The Elephant is a psychically troubled zone; in the heat we encountered numerous rowing couples, threats of violence and collapse. Attempting to film Alexander Fleming house we were accosted by security guards demanding “permission”. In the cool, spotless halls of Brent Cross or the secure borders of the Mall, this is understood, but on the rundown fringes of the crumbling and cracked Elephant & Castle shopping centre it seems absurd: what authority can be exerted here?

Shot 233

Shot 234

Keiller’s first day ends at London Bridge, a surprisingly calm and simple filming experience untroubled by security concerns. And we pushed on, to take in the City parts of the second day of the Expedition: the spaces under London Bridge, London Stone, Monument, the sundial of St Katherine Cree and the alleys around St Mary Axe, blasted, reconfigured and rebuilt following IRA bombs.

Shot 241

Shot 245

Shot 250

St Katherine Cree

Shot 254

At this point, the light and heat necessitated a break for refreshments on the river. However, many hours later, the expedition’s route was completed with a walk to Stoke Newington, taking in most of the other shots, which will have to be returned to and filmed shortly.

Crossing the City at night, I discovered it is possible to orienteer oneself almost exclusively along car-free paths, through the City’s myriad tiny alleyways and closes, through old lanes and along walkways slung beneath skyscrapers. The city retains its medieval footprint: obscured by office buildings contorted around graveyards and taverns, at ground level one encounters fragments of ancient walls, blackened signs, and somewhere, far away, the sound of running water.

2nd Expedition

Ruins Preview

July 6, 2010 | News |

Quick note – Andrew Ray of Some Landscapes has seen a preview of Robinson in Ruins:

On Friday I got to see extracts from Patrick Keiller’s forthcoming film, Robinson in Ruins, at the AHRC’s ‘Art and Environment’ conference at Tate Britain. Keiller has been making it as part of an interdisciplinary project for the Landscape and Environment programme. With him to present and talk about the film were an all-star panel – Patrick Wright, Doreen Massey, Matthew Flintham and Iain Sinclair. Each of these, apart from Sinclair, was involved in the project, but working in parallel rather than contributing directly to the film itself. Robinson in Ruins looks similar to Robinson in Space, filmed this time around Oxfordshire and focusing on the financial crisis unfolding through 2008. Vanessa Redgrave takes over from Paul Scofield as the narrator. The film documents sites of political or historical significance, like the woodland where Professor David Kelly committed suicide, interleaved with recurrent images – letter boxes, wind blown flowers, lichen growing on traffic signs.

Full post.

London on film on the Internet

June 18, 2010 | film,Notes |

One of the nice things about this project is people sending me bits of film and references. So I thought I’d compile a few of them that I an others have found lying around the internet – Londonish, Keilleresque, related, or not.

Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is available on Youtube, while La Jetée is on Google Video, alongside much else. Here’s Sans Soleil:

An extract from Humphrey Jennings’ “Listen to Britain”, cited by Keiller as a major influence (more where this comes from):

Alex selected this, Old London Street Scenes (1903), from a great long list of films generously uploaded by the BFI, which is very much worth exploring:

They’ve even compiled all the London extracts into a “Big Smoke” playlist. Thank you BFI! (In particular, check out the Robert Wyatt-soundtracked Solarflames Burn For You.)

Tom sent me this, which is just brilliant, and according to Joe Moran, was shot on Stamford Road on Dalston – a road I cycle down almost every day – in 1976. John Smith’s short film, The Girl Chewing Gum:

Most of this street has been demolished and rebuilt since then (such as the Odeon cinema), but the aspects of other buildings are still very much in evidence:

Screen shot 2010-06-18 at 15.41.39

Screen shot 2010-06-18 at 15.41.49

To close, here’s an extract featuring the peerless James Mason in the classic “The London Nobody Knows”, recently re-released by the BFI, bless ’em, with plenty of other clips available:

Please do keep sending interesting things as you find them. Thanks for those, sung and unsung, who have done already.

Early June Update: Royalty and Robinson

| Filming |

Since the last update, there has been shooting…

In the city, on the site of the 1992 Baltic Exchange bombing:

Shot 146

And in Leicester Square:

Shot 165


An informative morning was spent at the Trooping of the Colour. Unfortunately, it was not possible to attain the ICA balcony, where Keiller shot from, leading to some creative uses of the tripod. (The tripod causes problems: I was told I wasn’t allowed to use it in Leicester Square by a particularly gittish security guard for “health and safety” reasons. A policeman at the Trooping, having watched without action for a good 10 minutes, also said I wasn’t allowed to use it – none of his colleagues complained when I set up again 10 yards away.)

Trooping the Colour

Trooping the Colour


I found Brent Cross much changed – Keiller’s fountain is gone, and the security guards pounced as soon as my camera cleared my bag. After a fruitless hour trying to obtain permission for a single brief shot from the duty managers (health and safety, risk assessment, “our customers will sue us for absolutely anything”), I shot some wobbly footage on my video-capable stills camera instead.

We believe in the beauty of the everyday

At Staples Corner, site of the second bombing of 10 April 1992, one of those periodic pieces of intense strangeness occurred. The next site to the rebuilt retail store is owned by Robinsons, a removal firm. Strange enough, but when I realised Robinson was actually inserting himself into the frame I knew the game was up.


Staples Corner

Staples Corner

Staples Corner is a strange, resonant site even without that. I’d like to return to it – the metal gangways and foursquare pedestrian bridges are strongly reminiscent of Keiller’s earlier “Southbridge Park”:


Screen shot 2010-06-18 at 15.07.50


Screen shot 2010-06-18 at 15.10.21

Finally, last Wednesday, Tower Bridge was advertising the arrival of a mysterious “Vessel” with not one but two tugs, an opportunity I was not going to miss. The ship turned out to be a French naval frigate, the Latouche Tréville, visiting London for 5 days on “diplomatic duties”:

The French! The French!

That’s what I’ve been up to. How about you?

Work in Progress: June 2010

June 7, 2010 | film |

Watch in High Definition at Vimeo.

Many, many thanks to Katie Bonham and the 99 crew for a wonderful weekend, and to all those who came along.

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