Notes on Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins

Robinson in Ruins Keiller

Flicking back through the large notebook on my desk which has a Casey Neistat sticker on the cover, I find the notes I made while watching Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in Ruins at the beginning of last year.

I had seen the film at a special event at the National Film Theatre at the time of its release in 2010 but felt I needed to watch it again – I watched Keiller’s London so many times I wore out the VHS tape.

Here are the notes I made in their raw form:


“The wanderings it describes began on 22nd January 2008”
– this is the same time as the Silt Road journeys began. What was I doing in January 2008? Starting work on London Perambulator. 2008 the year of the financial crisis.

Robinson communicates with “non-human intelligences” living in marginal places – shot of a sign on an arterial road – roundabout – edgelands. They (and Robinson presumably) are concerned with human survival – are they insects rather than E.Ts?

Robinson drawn to London from Berlin in the mid-60’s by the ‘swinging sixties’ and presence of so many prehistoric structures in the landscape. Footpath that was once a Roman road leads Robinson to a gasometer (mirror of the standing stone he visits?) then on to Lidl on the site of the first Mini factory.

robinson in ruins

I stop the film to check my Twitter feed – tweet from London Port Authority: “2014 port trade 3% up at 44.5 million tones: tonnage up across cargo types”
A port statistics update while watching a Robinson film – how serendipitous.

Mention of IWCA in Oxford. Quotes 17th Century antiquarian in reference to a physick well. Then on to Plato and Epicurus in relation to climate then an update on the financial situation. Footage of a substation.
Robinson is a Prepper.
Returns constantly to boarded up house with scaffold first seen at start of film – a motif?

Sets out for Harrowdown Hill – April 10th – the death of Dr David Kelly – not far from Brize Norton – physical link to Iraq.
Spends the night in the enclosure of a mobile phone mast.

robinson in ruins
Military infrastructure gets mentioned a lot – the SOE wartime comms on a hill, railway line used by military.

Broad Street Oxford – the postbox set in the wall on the street corner another recurring motif. Robinson’s disappearance in the 1990’s and his companion’s publication (the narrator’s lover – this bloke had also been Robinson’s lover or have I got confused) of a report based on their work that led to him becoming a government advisor – “transformative potential” of “images of landscape” – linked to well-being. Back to shot of lichen on roadside – grows near nitrogen pollutants. Primroses in a lay-by. Note on UK climate and primrose seed transportation.

MayDay on the Ridgeway.

Horse Chestnut imported from Turkey in 17th Century.

robinson in ruins
Greenham Common nuclear warheads withdrawn – US Airforce base opposed on basis it infringed commoners rights. Now restored to Commons and open access by Newbury Council. Remains of US base stand in the fields where now cattle graze. Declared SSSI in 1985. Natural order restored.

Robinson moves on to Roman Silchester. He is now a marginal figure – semi-vagrant – bit of a weirdo.

The U.K Rocket industry embedded in the countryside near the Icknield Way (Blue Streak) and the Government military underground fuel pipe that possibly follows this Neolithic path.
Bright fields of poppies grown for medical diamorphine.

Robinson is a surrealist who has encounters with flowers – biophilia.

Very long shot of white foxgloves swaying in the breeze.
Long shot of butterfly on teasels briefly joined by a bee.
A great example of SLOW FILM

Watching the film I realize I am neglecting the book I am working on – carry on watching the film anyway.

Robinson in Ruins is set against the backdrop of the financial crisis of 2008. London takes places around Black Wednesday in 1992. Is this coincidence or does Keiller/Robinson have a nose for financial catastrophe?

At this point I stop making notes and just watch the rest of the film.

Milton Keynes – City of the Future

I didn’t even bother to check my iCal when Andy from Video Strolls asked if I wanted to come to screen in their event at Milton Keynes Gallery – I just said YES! I’ve shown films in two Video Strolls events in Birmingham and had a great time, but here was the added appeal of an excuse for a wander round Milton Keynes at night.

I’d bought a GoPro on the Monday of the week of the screening for the Nightwalk I filmed with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting for the Overground film. I’d be leaving Iain and Andrew at Hampstead and the plan was that Andrew would wear the GoPro on his head to capture some of the remaining epic nocturnal schlepp (he did and it’s great).

milton keynes go pro

Arriving at Milton Keynes station 10 minutes before the event was due to start I strapped the GoPro on my head and set off across the Milton Keynes grid bound for the gallery on the FAR SIDE. And wow.

I visited Milton Keynes as a kid on a coach trip from High Wycombe with my Mum. Nominally in the same county as Wycombe but further away than London, Milton Keynes was the new town on the map – the concrete citadel of the future rising from the lower end of the Midland Plain. We felt like primitive people from the Amazonian jungle propelled into a Flash Gordon future on a Green Line Bus. I’d never been back since.

Milton Keynes

Although my hazy memory of MK matched what I was seeing 30+ years on – Milton Keynes still seemed futuristic. I think it’s the absence of any other older reference points – a blank architectural slate and the clinical nature of the urban planning. The imposition of paganistic street naming and alignments – Midsummer Avenue is apparently aligned with the Summer Solstice sunrise – has an ‘Age of Aquarius’ tinge. I kept seeing Blake’s Seven super-imposed over the shopping halls – partly because that’s what I was obsessed with at the time I visited Milton Keynes in the 1980’s (Glynis Barber did so much to get me through those difficult early teenage years).

So I swept in late to the Video Strolls event with the red light on my GoPro flashing and introduced my River Roding film with the camera still rolling (don’t worry, the video above is intercut with my point-and-shoot camera). After the screening I walked back through Milton Keynes with Andy Howlett, one half of Video Strolls, and we attempted to process our reactions to this uncanny landscape and ponder on the future of films made purely from strapping a GoPro on your head when out for a wander as a perambulatory equivalent of the early cinematic ‘Phantom Rides‘.

I’ll need to get the camera set on my head straight for a start.

Lea Valley in 2005 before the Olympic Blitz

Bob Stanley presents this great look at the urban wilderness of the lower Lea Valley for the Culture Show before work on the Olympic site and the big shopping centre began – includes interviews with Iain Sinclair and Richard Wentworth.

It’s well worth seeking out Stanley and Paul Kelly’s film, What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? set around the locations in this video – it’s a real gem and brilliantly captures the area at a moment of transition.

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Swandown

My sister Cathy Rogers took this photo of Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair enjoying a well-earned pint beside the river Medway as they make their way along a series of inland waterways from Hastings to Angel Islington in a Swan shaped Pedalo. The project is called Swandown and had already began to garner a mythic status before they plonked their vessell in the water in late September – two of our great topographers on an epic crazed quest – I’m just waiting for Joblard to emerge from the Medway mist.

There’s more info, pictures and video on the Swandown website http://swandown.info/

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The London Perambulator in full

Here’s the full-cut of The London Perambulator that I’ve decided to release online after two years on the festival circuit. The film is not just a profile of enigmatic cult writer Nick Papadimitriou but about the lure of the edgelands of the city, the idea of psychogeography and Nick’s very own Deep Topography.

When I made my first video with Nick in 2005 I remember Googling ‘deep topography’ and there was nothing. Now it has been discussed at academic conferences, cited in national newspapers, mentioned on Radio 4 and even been the subject of an item on Newsnight. To cap it all Nick landed a publishing deal with a top London publisher to write the definitive deep topographic text which is due out next year.

I’m not sure we knew what to expect when we premiered the film at The Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival, April 2009. When you perambulate the margins as we do, schlepping round the fringes of industrial estates and tromping through the ‘acoustic footprint’ of the North Circular, you develop a natural scepticism about how your endeavours will be received. But the screening sold out that night. The film was discussed by a panel that included Iain Sinclair, Will Self, myself and was chaired by Dr Andrea Philips from Goldsmiths – and seemed to go down well.

More screenings followed, including The London International Documentary Festival, Cine City Brighton Film Festival and Doc Days at Curzon Soho.  A few years ago I’d been inspired by seeing Jem Cohen’s Chain at the Curzon and here now was our film playing on the same screen. That was a good moment, but there have been loads.

Putting it up Youtube now feels like a homecoming of sorts – that was where we uploaded our first videos and you could, if you wished, chart the progress of the project through to its conclusion with The London Perambulator.

Although is that the conclusion? We continue our work together with our radio show on Resonance fm (that was a product of the film) and I’ve inevitably filmed Nick on walks. Who knows, maybe there’ll be ‘Scarp – the movie’.

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Waves of Disappearance: cinematic topographies of the North Eastern frontier

Writing about the Leytonstone Centre for Contemporary Art reminded me of the essay I wrote at the end of 2006 about the films of Leytonstone and the Lower Lea Valley for UEL’s journal of East London Studies. This was when I first became more aware of the significant community of artists that lived in the area before the M11 Link road was built. As artist Cornelia Parker said of the mid-80s:
“Leytonstone at that time was a great place to be. A thriving community of artists lived in dilapidated houses that were due to be demolished for the promised M11 Link Road…..The cheap rents and abundance of space created a fertile breeding ground for ideas. Cross-pollinations and collaborations abounded, ground-breaking works given birth to – creativity thrived under the threat of imminent eviction.”

As the possibility of an arts centre being established in the old Woolworths building is being discussed it’s timely to remember this E11 avant-garde, the Leytonstone Left Bank.

You can read the rest of the article here

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I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks due to a week spent in Italy, out of the range of internet. I also found myself linguistically intimidated by the landscape such was it’s beauty – not just in the standardised bucolic sense but in the passifying effect on the soul. The same thing happened when I rounded off a 7 month stint in the flat industrial plain of Emilia Romangna with two weeks in Tuscany. Over the preceding months I’d spewed out splenetic prose nightly – to the extent that I had the first draft of a book (that I plan to publish shortly on Lulu). Once in Tuscany the words dried up – it was all swooning olive groves and rhapsodic lunches.

I’ve also been pre-occupied with tomorrow night’s screening of the Nick Papadimitriou film at the Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival. There will also be an ‘Edgelands’ panel afterwards with Will Self, Iain Sinclair, Andrea Philips and me. What amazing company to find oneself in on a stage in the newly reburbed Gallery.
Aldgate East is one of the parts of London pregnant with memory for me. The distinctive smell of the tube platform hurtles me back to 89-92, City Poly, in various states of inebriation. I never once ventured inside the Whitechapel in those years. And now The London Perambulator makes its world premiere there.

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