New Mounds rewiring the psychogeography of London

Stave Hill Rotherhithe

It was on the Refugee Tales walk that we ascended Stave Hill, Rotherhithe – a peculiar recently constructed mound in the centre of an urban park. Iain Sinclair remarked that we may be entering a new era of mound builders with Beckton Alp (a grass covered heap of arsenic) the Silbury Hill of this new epoch.

Taking in the view from the summit Iain says:
“The triangulation of the Shard, the Gherkin, and this new Omphalos – it’s trying rewire the psychogeography of London and undo the great energy lines and ley lines of Greenwich from the top of Greenwich Hill – this is the alternative thing and it’s deeply sinister.”

The London Hospital, Whitechapel: seen from the northern side

The London Hospital, Whitechapel: seen from the northern side
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Iain then talks about the mound at Whitechapel beside the London Hospital.
“It was built up at the time of the civil war as a defensive mound against the Royalists and it stayed there until relatively recent times,” and although it was demolished “the sense of it is still there”.

He spoke of how the early foundations of London were based on the four principle sacred mounds of London as described by E.O Gordon in ‘Prehistoric London – its mounds and circles’, and the relationship between the mounds “and the geometric patterns that emerged. Now the Hawksmoor pattern that you could have seen from the top of Greenwich Hill has been obliterated by Canary Wharf someone’s got to set up a new system to replace it”, and the Stave Hill mound is part of that system. “So we’ll link this to Beckton Alp, which is a mound of arsenic and a few shells left behind by Stanley Kubrick after re-staging the Vietnam War”.

Iain had found traces of the palm trees Kubrick had planted around Beckton when using it as the setting for Full Metal Jacket. He was on a walk with film-maker Chris Petit from Aldgate Pump down to the sea and they found a strange park near Beckton Alp which had stubs and “dying remnants of the palm trees that Kubrick had imported from Spain to create a sense of Vietnam”.

He took Will Self to the gigantic Woolworths at the retail park at Beckton built on the site of the old gas works – apparently it reminded Self of America due to the scale of the store, “but yet you could actually could get a very good cup of coffee”, Iain laughs, “and a big collection of dvds, I liked it a lot, but then it disappeared.”

London Overground Q&A with Iain Sinclair at the East End Film Festival

After working on London Overground for almost exactly a year it was a special moment to see it fade up on the big screen at the Rio Cinema in the East End Film Festival on 2nd July. It was the first time I’d watched the film all the way through without changing it and tinkering in the edit.

I sat next to my 13-year old son in the 4th row and out of the 170+ people in the auditorium it was his reaction I was most attuned to. He fidgeted in the way you’d expect a teenager to but at the end he said, almost surprised, “I enjoyed that”.

Iain Sinclair & John Rogers

The Q&A with Iain Sinclair afterwards covered the basics of how the film evolved and then towards the end into the territory of discussing ‘the state of London’ and various responses to it. When I’m doing these events with Iain I always feel like I’ve got the best seat in the house to sit and listen to him talk – but with the added bonus that I get to contribute.

The film now takes on a life of its own – once screened it is liberated. There are more screenings planned for the autumn and winter as I start to turn my mind to future projects.

London Overground world premiere trailer

The world premiere of London Overground is on Sat 2nd July at the Rio Cinema, Dalston screening in the East End Film Festival. I’ve been working on the film for almost exactly a year now following on from the interview I shot with Iain Sinclair about the book. Shortly afterwards we shot the first section of the Overground walk with Andrew Kotting – strolling from Rotherhithe Station to the Thames shore then down to Surrey Quays through Andrew’s old memory grounds. We stopped in the same cafe they did in the book, La Cigale near Greenland Dock.

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Overground film

From there we dropped by the Cafe Gallery in Southwark Park where Andrew deposited a found object from the Thames shore, and passed by the New Den to Queens Road Peckham. The walked ended with possibly one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever filmed … but you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

The next shoot with Bill Parry-Davies of Open Dalston picking through the horrors of regeneration around Dalston Junction and getting to the heart of the Overground loop and it how it gave birth to a new model of property development in London underpinned by overseas investment.

Iain Sinclair Wapping John Rogers

In autumn and early winter Iain and I walked alone in two stages from Haggerston back to the Thames at Wapping. Here we traversed key landscapes in Iain’s life and writing – the East End, Truman Brewery, Anti-University, Hare Marsh, Whitechapel, St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, Narrow Street, Wapping.

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Overground film

I was back out on the road with Andrew and Iain early this year as they reprised the Overground walk in full but in reverse – starting in the evening and walk counter-clockwise through the night arriving back in Haggerston at 10am the next day. I only stayed the course as far as Hampstead Heath but strapped a GoPro to Andrew’s head to capture highlights of the rest of the circuit.

Iain Sinclair Chris Petit overground film

We headed to the northwest quarter with legendary Radio On director and noir novelist Chris Petit to explore Willesden Junction – which confirmed Iain’s idea that the Overground was a ghost railway.

The rest – oh, there’s loads more including great contributions from Marcia Farquhar and Cathi Unsworth, a brilliant soundtrack from the likes of Standard Planets, Bill and Adam Parry-Davies, Free Seed Music, and Rosen.

John Rogers Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair

Hope to see you at the Rio on Saturday.

Film talk – making London Overground, 10 years on YouTube etc.

I don’t usually make videos like this – just talking to the camera, I much prefer to be out shooting on the hoof. But since I’m imprisoned in my box room finishing the London Overground film for the premiere in the East End Film Festival it seemed like the natural thing to do. I did try and record it by the river at Chelsea Harbour, but being battered by the wind muddled my brain.

I ended up reflecting (again) that I’ve been on YouTube for 10 years now – an eternity for a website just 11 years old. The first video I uploaded was an excerpt from a walk I’d done with Nick Papadimitriou in 2005 following the northwest Middlesex main drainage scheme – Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou. There is a direct link between that video and the London Overground film (as explained above) so it’s apt to be finishing the film this year.

 

Talking about London Overground film on Soho Radio

Went in to the wonderful Soho Radio on Wednesday morning to talk about my London Overground film with Ben Ramble and Holly Horne on their show Free Seed on Soho.

It was a suitably rambling chat (you can listen to the entire episode above) where I went on about YouTube for too long, but then it is integral to my development as a film-maker and also as a writer. I’d also recently realised that I’ve been on YouTube for 10 years now which is a bit of a landmark when you consider that the platform is just over 10 years old itself. We touched on the work-in-progress screening at Close-Up the week before where we screened 20 minutes of footage and discussed the film and book with Iain Sinclair.

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

The morning after the Close-Up screening I went out to do one of the final shoots with Iain picking up the Overground trail at St. Mary’s Church Battersea where William Blake got married Catherine Boucher in 1782.

The finished film will premiere in the East End Film Festival which runs from 23rd June – 3rd July.

London Overground film – edit notes #1

Iain Sinclair Overground film

Screen shot from the edit

So the editing of my film of Iain Sinclair’s London Overground has formally begun. I’ve previously casually spooled through rushes, and even put together a 7 minute short cut from the first shoot for a couple events Iain has done and at which we’ve spoken about the film – but today is the day I mark the edit as beginning.

It can be a lonely business at times working as I do alone on the film-making side, although I have become so conditioned to this process now I don’t think I could work any other way. I say ‘alone’, but the shoots have been a thoroughly collaborative process with Iain and Andrew Kotting. But it’s at this stage looking down the barrels of what will become a 3 month edit that it can feel slightly daunting – the edge knocked off with each clip you view. It’s looking good.

So I wanted to share this as I go – with you – the readers of this blog, the single piece of work that links all my projects together.

I worked on a ‘big’ documentary once – one with a proper ‘big’ budget and a team, a team that changed and grew, then shrunk, as the project endlessly lumbered on for years. There was a period that must have lasted for about a year (if not longer) where the core team of 4 of us sat in a small edit suite every day viewing rushes, cutting, discussing, despairing. I took to calling it ‘the group therapy room’. This partly explains why I work the way I do on my own projects – no budget, no producers, no crew, just me and the people I’m working with in front of the camera.

Serendipitously that edit suite was next to the Overground and we passed it on the recent Night Walk for the film – it felt like a moment of redemption for all those wasted days.

Now I sit in my box room alone at midnight slowly working through the footage I’ve shot on and off over 7 months with a festival screening in the summer to aim at. From the first shoot, with Iain and Andrew Kotting walking from Rotherhithe to Queens Road Peckham, the biggest dilemma was always going to be what to leave out. There is a conversation between Andrew and Iain in La Cigale cafe in Surrey Quays that runs for about 12 minutes – I must have watched it through 4 times and I still can’t see a cut, it’s all great stuff (and if you are a fan of either of their work then it’s priceless viewing).

Tonight I’m going through a walk with Iain from Haggerston to Shadwell. I am less than half-way through the bin and there is 24 minutes on the timeline. Assuming I carry on at this rate, if I follow the old edit adage of ‘Kill Your Darlings’ then this will make the Slaughter of the Innocents look like an exercise in passive restraint.

Iain Sinclair Overground film

screen shot from the edit

At this stage I feel that the film will take multiple forms. There will be the ‘feature length’ cut of no more than 80 minutes for public screenings. And I think we’ll try and find somebody to put out a DVD. But after the initial run of these I can see it as a YouTube series that could run for several episodes.

Both my previous feature docs – The London Perambulator and Make Your Own Damn Art enjoyed great runs of screenings (that continue to pop up). But they’ve also had a second life online with London Perambulator clocking up over 50,000 views on YouTube. After some successful screenings Make Your Own Damn Art was distributed online by Curzon On Demand and was also on a continuous loop at New York’s prestigious MoMA PS1 for 6 months. It was odd to sit at home in Leytonstone and imagine my film playing for 8 hours a day to passing art liggers in one of the world’s great galleries.

Independent film-makers today are spoilt for choice – as long as you don’t want to make money – and if you want to make money then you shouldn’t be making films.

Ok, I enjoyed sharing this with you – thanks for listening. There are going to be a lot more nights like this over the coming months. I better get back to the edit, Iain is just arriving at Hoxton Station – this is a really good bit.