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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, July 21, 2004
    Keiller: London
     
    A rare weeknight without a meeting - chance for afirst look at Patrick Keiller's London, his first feature, preamble to Robinson in Space. It is a meditation on the place - in 1992, year of IRA City bombings, crippling revelations about the House of Windsor, a dismally successful Conservative general election victory and subsequent turmoil in the financial markets and among the mining communities. A snapshot - which dates it but also offers much of a timeless quality to contemplate.

    "There is no town in the world which is more adapted for training one away from people and training one into solitude than London..." Keiller quotes Aleksandr Herzen as he pans slowly over blasted wasteground or holds the camera still over stagnant water being patterned by gentle raindrops. Going some way towards explaining my fondness of London - me, the happy solitary - where in 1992 I was spending two or three days a month on average, with work, leisure, Greenbelt.

    And in his video-case introduction an attitude which chimes with my developing approach to urban discovery (don't dismiss the unpromising, unlikely places - they reveal so much - go there): "The re-imagination of the city springs far more from the act of filming it than from the choice of locations."

    It's as drily observant as Robinson in Space, if slightly less tightly-structured, a little more earnest and a little less witty. It's of its time and it's of all times - Keiller's lengthy shots of crowds flowing over Thames bridges into work are classic London views, recalling Eliot's immortal words which come back to me often when I'm a solitary in among thousands: "I had not thought death had undone so many."