London / Robinson in Space View large image
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Film Details

Directed by: Patrick Keiller

Produced: 1997

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 160 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 0

Released: 20 June 2011

Cat No: BFIVD926

Extras:
Languages(s): English
Interactive Menu

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London / Robinson in Space

Cast: Paul Scofield (Narr)

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Double-bill of director Patrick Keiller’s imaginative experimental films. ’London’ (1993) is an exhaustive and fascinating depiction of... Read More

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Double-bill of director Patrick Keiller’s imaginative experimental films. ’London’ (1993) is an exhaustive and fascinating depiction of the nation’s capital, presented as a literary journey through the city. Neither feature nor documentary, the film follows the unseen researcher Robinson and an off-screen narrator (Paul Scofield) as they meditate on the nature of London in a time which saw the re-election of John Major, the continuation of the IRA bombing campaign, the ERM crisis and the beginning of the fall of the House of Windsor. ’Robinson in Space’ (1997) sees the duo journey around England, charged by an advertising company to investigate the ’problem with England’, without being told what that problem might be. They begin at Reading, then move on to various ports, factories, and academic centres such as Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, their research throwing up some interesting conclusions on the way.

Under the shadow of another general election, and in the year that sees the final phasing out of Robinson’s ‘undeniably utopian’ Routemaster buses, what better moment for Patrick Keiller’s cinematic elegies to British public space to appear on DVD? London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997) are stages in the journey of an autodidact and his companion in their attempt to understand the ‘problem’ of modern Britain through its economic geography. Both films are wonderfully narrated by Paul Scofield, (who brings the distinctive wit and melancholy of Keiller’s scripts to life) and capture two of the 1990s defining moments: Black Wednesday and the months before the ‘97 landslide. No post-modern celebration, then, but an indictment of ‘the most unsociable and reactionary of cities,’ Keiller’s London has a void at its civic heart, filled up by international commerce and the meaningless spectacle of monarchy. While the film’s static visual fragments convey an urban culture that is broken and impoverished, they also suggest the remains of an idealised modernity that lies buried in the city. Robinson’s metropolis has moved to the margins: to migrants, exiles and the suburban crowd. His project of suburban excavation continues in Robinson in Space, where, inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Tour of the Whole Island of Great Britain, Robinson and friend set out to anatomise a ‘peculiarly English form of capitalism’. On an odyssey of bus-shelter brief encounters and bad motorway food, they discover the provinces as a terrifying sequence of private spaces and flee from the interior to the edges: the distribution centres and ports that form the key to the paradox of national character. Immingham’s wealthy sterility sums up how British public space has been reduced to the dimensions of a container. Yet the possibility of a creative outside is still there in the Neolithic art of the Scottish border and the stubborn haunting of the landscape by birdsong, eccentrics and visionaries (Robert Burton, Laurence Sterne, and watch out for the soundtrack’s affecting and sneaky homage to Powell and Pressburger). As central to our cinematic culture as Humphrey Jennings or Lindsay Anderson, these are perhaps the two most important British films of the 1990s.

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