Walking the River Brent

“And so it was that we returned to the valley of the River Brent”

Patrick Keiller, London (1994)

Brent Cross tube station is a place that holds a deep sense of nostalgia for me. It links me back to walks with Nick Papadimitriou. I could almost see him waiting for me on the wooden bench in the ticket hall in 2007. On the way there, it’d only just struck me how apt that I’d chosen a walk along the River Brent to be filmed by an MA student and their friend for her Visual Anthropology project.

A Focus on the River Brent

Being filmed walking a territory I’d filmed someone else walking added an intriguing layer to the excursion. But the real highlight was walking a section of the River Brent I’d only glimpsed while crossing its course. Surprisingly, in all my previous walks through this terrain, I never set out with the sole intention of following the course of the Brent, from its starting point here at Brent Cross to its convergence with the A40 Western Avenue.

While the Brent often made cameo appearances in our previous explorations between Brent Cross and Perivale, it never received the attention it deserves. Today, the river itself took centre stage.

River Brent at Brent Cross
John Rogers being filmed walking the River Brent near Neasden

A Brief Detour to Brent Cross Shopping Centre

Before we embarked on our journey along the Brent, we made a brief detour to Brent Cross Shopping Centre. The confluence of arterial roads in this area creates its own power, with the Hendon Way and the North Circular intersecting. On the far side of these roads lies Brent Cross and, with the River Brent meandering through the concrete kingdom.

Brent Cross was the UK’s first out-of-town shopping mall, opening in 1976. The grandeur of this place left a lasting impression on me when I visited as a kid in the early 80s. In Patrick Keiller’s seminal film London, the central character Robinson chooses Brent Cross as a location to write poetry, in the spirit of Parisian flâneurs haunting the 19th century arcades. The scene in Keiller’s film also subtly invokes Walter Benjamin’s epic Arcades Project.

We caught sight of a small intense man sitting near the fountain reading from a book by Walter Benjamin. Robinson embraced this man and they talked for a long time. But when he tried to call him later he found that the number was a public telephone in a street in Cricklewood and we never saw the man again.

London, Patrick Keiller, 1994

Robinson and his friend later return to the Brent Valley to walk along the River Brent.

River Brent
Liv and Milo

The River Brent’s Juxtaposition

Returning to the banks of the River Brent, a stark contrast unfolds. On one side lies the discarded refuse and the presence of rats scurrying through the undergrowth. On the other side of the road stands the towering cathedral of consumerism.

Such a stark juxtaposition makes me think of the river deities personified in the Rivers of London series of novels by Ben Aaronovitch. The abuse of this living body of water is intrinsically linked to the grand shopping centre beckoning with its enticing offerings.

A lost London village

After surviving a detour through the bowels of IKEA and it’s enormous car park, the river led us to the lost village of Monks Park. I’d first visited the area with Nick Papadimitriou for a recording of our radio show in 2009. This is an old Middlesex village absorbed into the West London industrial belt that followed the Brent, the name now largely erased beyond the recreation ground. I discovered Monks Park from the same source as Nick, in fact it played a pivotal role in how we first bonded. It’s the subject of a chapter in Gordon S. Maxwell’s The Fringe of London published in 1925 (which I never stop mentioning) ‘Rural England. Four miles from the Marble Arch.’ When I first found Maxwell’s book I became convinced that Patrick Keiller must have encountered it when making his first short film Stonebridge Park shot nearby in 1981. A subsequent email to Keiller many years ago revealed that it was merely a coincidence.

Monks Park
Monks Park walk, 2009 – photo by Peter Knapp

The End

At the A40 our walk conjoined with my northbound strolls along the Brent from Brentford through Perivale, and so I wandered with Liv and Milo along the Western Avenue to Hanger Lane tube. It’s a walk that even 3 months later sits in my mind calling me back.

Landscape and the transformation of reality

Patrick Keiller London book
Abbey Creek West Ham p.10-11 – near where Patrick Keiller taught at North East London Polytechnic 1983-92

Patrick Keiller, Mark Fisher, W.G. Sebald and Will Self on the possibilities created by engagement with the landscape

I came across an edited extract of the following quote from Patrick Keiller in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life. This is the full passage from Keiller’s essay Landscape and cinematography published in cultural geographies 16 in 2009:
“I had embarked on landscape film-making in 1981, early in the Thatcher era, after encountering a surrealist tradition in the UK and elsewhere, so that cinematography involved the pursuit of a transformation, radical or otherwise, of everyday reality. I recently came across a description, in Kitty Hauser’s Bloody old Britain, of O.G.S. Crawford’s photography: ‘Like photographers of the New Objectivity, clarity was his goal. Like them, he favoured stark contrasts, with no blurring or mistiness. His focus, like theirs, was on the object or the scene in front of him, which it was his aim to illuminate as clearly as he could. [. . .] It was commitment that lit up his photographs [. . .] Such photographs suggest a love of the world that was almost mystical in its intensity.’ I had forgotten that photography is often motivated by utopian or ideological imperatives, both as a critique of the world, and to demonstrate the possibility of creating a better one, even if only by improving the quality of the light.”

Patrick Keiller - The Possibility of Life's Survival on the Planet

Elsewhere in the essay, Keiller cites Fredric Jameson. ‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the break-down of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.’ (The seeds of time, 1996). Mark Fisher also drew on Jameson’s statement for the animating thesis of his book Capitalist Realism, published in the same year as Keiller’s essay, 2009. Fisher identified Capitalist Realism as “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” He argued that capitalist realism could only be overcome through the development of a new collective imagination, one that is capable of envisioning and creating alternatives to the current system. His proposed “politics of possibility” would open up new avenues for collective action and social transformation. Much like Keiller had seen the possibility of transforming reality through landscape film-making.

St George's Lutheran Church London E1
St George’s Lutheran Church

The Jameson quote was paraphrased by the author Will Self in a talk he gave the other night (20th December 2022) at St George’s German Lutheran Church in Whitechapel, entitled: The Ghost of Future Past – WG Sebald and the Trauma of Modernity. In his talk Self noted how Sebald was far more concerned with the looming ecological catastrophe and environmental breakdown than he is given credit for. He recounts a chance encounter he had with Sebald on Dunwich Heath in 1992 while he was living in the area writing his novel Great Apes. Self was ‘knuckle-walking’ like a chimp as research for the book when he came across Sebald’s path. Sebald was embarked on a walk along the Suffolk coast for his seminal work, The Rings of Saturn. Self did not know who Sebald was at this point, and it’s not clear if Sebald recognised Will Self who, although lauded for his excellent debut collection of stories, The Quantity Theory of Insanity (1991), hadn’t yet punctured the mainstream in the way he was shortly to do. Self recalled how their conversation had centred around the subject of ecocide. This encounter was retold in the early drafts of Rings of Saturn (with the Will Self character dressed in white silk pantaloons) and later edited out.

Greyfriars Friary Dunwich
Greyfriars Friary Dunwich

The fact that Patrick Keiller, Will Self and Mark Fisher are drawing from the same critique of late-capitalism should not be surprising given their shared interest in the changing nature of place and landscape. I’m not sure what Keiller made of Sebald’s writing but I found echoes of Keiller’s Robinson character in the eponymous central figure of Sebald’s novel Austerlitz. Stephen Watts, who’d guided Sebald through the East End on his research walks for Austerlitz, was in attendance at St George’s for the Will Self talk.

David Anderson links Keiller and Sebald (along with Iain Sinclair) in his book, Landscape and Subjectivity in the work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald, and Iain Sinclair. Anderson points out that all three draw from two principle lineages: the tradition of the ‘English Journey’, and the continental ideas generated by Surrealism and Situationism. Mark Fisher was a great admirer of both Sebald and Keiller and there are connections between their ideas of the landscape with Fisher’s promotion of hauntology. “Walking in ruins places us in a strange state of temporal dislocation, in which the past is simultaneously absent and present, for which Derrida coined the term ‘hauntology’ (in Spectres Of Marx, 1993)” – Frieze magazine, 2008.

Despite the pessimistic tone that emerges from all the writers mentioned here in their engagement with the landscape, Keiller does raise the possibility that a better world could be created – merely by looking at it.

Patrick Keiller interview: London the book

Patrick Keiller London book

Patrick Keiller’s film London was released in 1994 and made an instant impact among viewers and critics alike, becoming enormously influential over the years. Filmed in 1992 and composed of 356 moving images of scenes around the city shot on 35mm film, it has now been published in book form with over two hundred high-definition digital scans of the original frames along with ‘the narration, an afterword, and a list of camera subjects and endnotes.’

This publication by FUEL, gave me a wonderful opportunity to ask Patrick Keiller a few questions via email about London, both book and film.


John Rogers: I’ve watched the film London countless times and yet I still found the book a new experience. Certain things took on a significance on the page in a way they didn’t in the film for me – such as the laying of the wreaths on the statue of Charles I which appear to be a marker of time. And also the linking of Brent Cross and covered Brixton Market with the reference to the Russian Formalists with Sterne and Apollinaire. Did creating the book make you see the film in a new light after all these years?

Patrick Keiller: The book led me to pay more attention to some of the pictures, as they can be looked at for longer, and hence in more detail, than when watching the film. By 2017 all the 35mm prints had become too worn or damaged to remain in distribution, and the negative was scanned to make a 2K digital version for cinemas and streaming. In 1993, a few publicity images had been copied from 35mm print trims, but otherwise we’d only been able to look at individual frames on a Steenbeck [editing table], which displays a relatively dim, low-resolution image, especially when paused, and although the prints were very sharp and were sometimes projected on very big screens, none of the images are on screen for very long.

After the scan, it was relatively easy to extract high definition frames for publication, and I was very pleased when FUEL asked me if I’d be interested in a book. There’s much more detail in the pictures than I’d expected, and some of them stand out in a way they hadn’t before – the view along the south side of Spitalfields Market, for example, with a man who looks as if he’s just arrived from 1848, and Christ Church at the end (pp. 146-147). I’d almost forgotten about this image, perhaps because in the film it only lasts for five seconds, and follows the slightly longer, closer view of the church. The book’s cover image – which was FUEL’s suggestion – is a portrait-format detail of the landscape-format view along Cannon Street towards St Paul’s (p. 140), with a No. 15 bus. I’d never noticed this image’s potential for reframing, and until the scan, a detail from it wouldn’t have been sharp enough to publish.

In the past, I’ve tended to talk or write about the film in terms of its subject, but it was primarily an attempt to make convincing images.

Patrick Keiller London book

view along the south side of Spitalfields Market – from London by Patrick Keiller (pub, FUEL)

JR: In the introduction to the book you write that the script and story was written after filming. So can you tell me about the process – did you start with a map and walk the routes first? What informed those journeys? As a film-maker I’m interested in the production process and how it contrasts with how you approach production in the digital age.

Would it be possible to attract funding for such a film now?

PK: The film was commissioned from a document with two parts, each a kind of recipe for half the film: the first a series of brief sections in each of which was a group of possible camera subjects and some sample narration; the second outlining sixteen journeys or trips to specific places. Both the cinematography and the narrative of each part were to last about six months. The narrative was to begin in late September, but I reasoned that we could begin the cinematography whenever we were ready, as long as we ended up with twelve months of footage. As it turned out, we started shortly before what would have been the period of the second part. All that survives from the document in the finished film are a few brief passages of narration, two journeys (two of the film’s three ‘expeditions’) and some of the one-off visits. Otherwise the film made itself up as it went along, as a kind of diary of 1992.

I don’t think it would be impossible to work like this now, but in the current climate it might be difficult for an institution to commission a work that begins by describing someone’s return to London as ‘a journey to the end of the world’.

Patrick Keiller London book

gateposts at Vauxhall Park matching a shot from London – John Rogers 2018

JR: Is there a difficulty in capturing a journey on foot in a film unlike the established genre of the road movie by car. When I walked the route of the first walk in the film – from Vauxhall to Richmond (I didn’t make it to Strawberry Hill due to lack of light) I realised how much terrain sits between Clapham Common and Strawberry Hill. How did you negotiate this in the writing and filming?

PK: The first ‘expedition’ is narrated as a walk along the Thames, downstream from Teddington Lock, supposedly embarked on spontaneously after a visit to Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. The protagonists ‘set out for Strawberry Hill’ on 10 March, ‘but were distracted by events on Wandsworth Common’  – an IRA bomb beside the railway tracks. I don’t think we’d planned to go to Strawberry Hill on that day, but Wandsworth Common was near the likely route, so we went to have a look. On 12 March, they ‘set off again, crossing Clapham Common in the rush hour’, the latter phrase accommodating an unplanned image photographed on Clapham Common on 15 March. On 12 March, we drove straight to Strawberry Hill, where we had an appointment, going on to Teddington Lock in the afternoon. The ‘walk’ downstream, on the other hand, occupied us for weeks, as I wanted to be able to choose from views of every bridge to accompany Rimbaud’s Les Ponts, and we broke off to cover the general election and its aftermath, returning to the river later.

The second and third ‘expeditions’ were a little more straightforward, but even so the cinematography for each was undertaken over several weeks (there are dates and other details at the end of the book). Making the film involved plenty of walking, but I don’t think I ever walked more than a mile from the car – the equipment was quite heavy. The journeys narrated in the film are not always the same as the journeys involved in making it.


JR: How do you feel about the way that the stylistic form of film – the locked off shot and narration – gave birth to a genre – Keilleresque ?

PK: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called that. When people ask about the lack of camera movement, I still don’t know quite what to say – except that London was hardly the first film in which the camera doesn’t move much.


JR: Robinson is an Art Teacher at the University of Barking – was this based on your own experiences of teaching in Walthamstow?

PK: I taught in the school of architecture at the North East London Poly at Walthamstow from autumn 1974 until summer 1982, for two-and-a-half hours a week, then for two days a week from autumn 1983 – after the school had moved to a site in Plaistow – until summer 1988, returning in 1990, by which time it had become the Polytechnic of East London, until early 1992, when we began the cinematography for London. I also taught at Middlesex Polytechnic, later University, in the fine art department (the former Hornsey College of Art), from 1983 until about 1999, though by then I was only working there for about six days a year. I never visited NELP/PEL/UEL’s site at Barking, but liked the idea of a University of Barking.

Patrick Keiller London book

Abbey Creek West Ham, London p.10-11 – near where Patrick Keiller taught at North East London Polytechnic 1983-92

JR: Could the character of Robinson exist today?

PK: Definitely – they’re everywhere.


JR: There was a particular mood in London during 1992 which is brilliantly captured in the film. Was it intentional to shoot in an election year and how would a Labour victory have changed the film?

PK: We hadn’t intended to coincide with an election, though I knew there was going to be one – it couldn’t have been put off any longer – but I don’t remember wondering how to deal with the result – either way – until afterwards.

If Labour had won, perhaps the film would have stuck more closely to its initial intention, which was to identify what made London feel so different from mainland European capitals. Or perhaps it could have looked forward to a future that would be at least less unattractive than that envisaged under the Tories (risking pale imitation of Humphrey Jennings’s A Diary for Timothy). It would have lost some of its sense of alienation, probably many of its crowd scenes, and one of its stars, John Major.


JR: Parts of Robinson’s Vauxhall are unrecognisable from the time of his expeditions. Has the ‘problem of London’ changed since the early 90’s?

PK: For Robinson in 1992, the ‘problem’ seems to have been an overall sense of absence, including what Herzen described as ‘the absence of Continental diversions’, but for more practical people the problem of London, then as now, was housing, except that now, as everybody knows, it’s much worse.

In 1992, however, Robinson ‘argued that the failure of London was rooted in the English fear of cities […] the fear of Europe’. I doubt that he would say that in 2021, when the city’s political, economic and cultural differences from most of the rest of England have become more marked.


JR: Do you think there was something about the Thatcher era that inspired a revival of interest in the idea and practice of psychogeography. In the film Robinson engages in exercises of psychic landscaping and free association. What is your idea of the term?

PK: I did write something like that in 1999, suggesting that by then ‘the transformation of everyday surroundings [was] achieved much less by physical rebuilding than by other means’, that ‘perhaps the impulse to poeticise landscape in this way always coincides with periods of heightened political tension’, and that it might be a response to an absence of radical new architecture. But even I was surprised when Pasqual Maragall, former mayor of Barcelona, in London to receive the RIBA’s 1999 Royal Gold Medal on behalf of the city, compared London’s stasis under Thatcher with Spain’s under Franco.

My understanding of the term is from Guy Debord: ‘Psychogeography will aim to study the precise laws and specific effects of the geographic milieu, consciously planned or not, acting directly on the affective comportment of individuals’. He added that ‘it is not forbidden to think that a future urbanism will apply itself to structures, no less utilitarian, taking into the largest account psychogeographic possibilities’, and it’s always seemed to me that the practice was conceived as preliminary to the creation of spaces that were in some way revolutionary – ‘the hacienda must be built’. For this reason, I used to see it as much too ambitious to apply to what I was doing. But now it’s on the back of the book, so there’s no avoiding it.

Patrick Keiller London book

JR: The film and book seem more prescient with each passing year – how do you feel about the political direction of the country since 1992?

PK: It’s very generous of you to say that! Though I don’t think how I feel about it is much use to anyone, least of all me.

Preparing the book, I was reminded how peculiar the Tory ‘eurosceptics’ seemed in 1992. In the 1990s, the UK’s – or at least England’s – ‘identity’, if any, seemed to derive from its supposed diversity and openness to incoming cultures. As I remember, ‘Britishness’ only began to crop up in the mid-2000s.

It’s always seemed to me that there’s a longstanding discrepancy, much greater than those in comparable European countries, between the UK’s claimed economic performance, measured by GDP etc., and its visible poverty and dilapidation. I think a lot of what I notice results from the increased dominance of the economy by services, particularly finance, which has led to the UK’s current vulnerability.


JR: What are you currently working on – many people are eagerly awaiting your next work?

PK: Just recently I’ve written a brief text to accompany some images that I made last summer of the flight of a pipistrelle bat above the gardens behind the house I live in. Before that, I was devoting a lot of time to preparing the text and pictures for the book, and made a sort of website to accompany its publication.

Meanwhile, and for longer than I care to remember, I’ve been attempting a ‘novel perception’ of the UK’s material economy. I’m trying to find out how 65-million-plus people manage to live here, many of us in relative prosperity.




You can buy the book directly from FUEL here

Walking Keiller’s ‘London’ – the first walk

This is the first walk in Patrick Keiller’s seminal film London, shot in 1992, where Robinson and the unseen narrator set out from Vauxhall to walk to Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, which Robinson believes is the birthplace of English Romanticism.

My walk took me from Vauxhall Park through Stockwell and Clapham North to Clapham Common, then Wandsworth Common and Earlsfield. I then passed between Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common and through Alton Estate, Roehampton to Richmond Park. This was a route I had to devise based on only a few images in the film – starting at Vauxhall Park – the only other images used in Keiller’s film between there and Strawberry Hill were of Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common.


The film features an audio excerpt from a project at Roehampton by my sister Cathy Rogers.

You can watch London on the BFI Player

The DVD is available here (affiliate link)

More info about Roehampton

The influence of Le Corbusier on Alton West Roehampton is clear, particularly in the eleven-story slab blocks which were inspired by a visit to the recently completed Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles – read more here

Richard Rogers on Roehampton for BBC Building Sights (1996)

Interview with Patrick Keiller about London from May 1994

Adam Scovell’s interview with Patrick Keiller from the British Film Institute, June 2017

The Future of Landscape interview with Patrick Keiller by Andrew Stevens for 3:AM Magazine

Video Notes / Videography Notes

Jonas Mekas

from Jonas Mekas – In Focus – The Artist’s Studio by MOCA

I’ve just launched a new blog of occasional writing on video culture, videography and film-making called Video Notes (the url is videographynotes because video notes was already taken). The first post explores how Jonas Mekas, ‘the godfather of the avant-garde’, could be seen as the original vlogger, and the parallels between the 1960’s experimental film scene in New York and contemporary online video culture. To be honest, I didn’t set out to write that post at all – I just wanted to explore the idea of diary films, but that is where the reading took me.

Mekas was one of the founders of the Film-makers’ Co-operative in New York in 1962. After writing the post I embarked on a crazed rummage through my notes and cuttings trying to find the brochure for the Tate retrospective screenings of the work of the London Film-makers’ Co-op entitled ‘Shoot Shoot Shoot’ from 2002 (Shoot Shoot Shoot: The First Decade of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative and British Avant Garde Film 1966-76). I didn’t find it but had fun looking. But it did lead me to find this brilliant collection of films from the London Film-makers’ Co-op free to view on the BFI player.

I’d had an awareness and interest in Jonas Mekas from my time working at the National Film Theatre (this was my film school). But it was when I was trying to work out what to do with the 4 hours of footage from the walks I did for my book This Other London that artist Bob and Roberta Smith suggested looking at Mekas’ work for inspiration. Although I wasn’t able to make anything from that footage (here’s one of the failed edits) – it did lead me down the path of studying YouTube vlogs more closely which then, via a meandering route, led to my ongoing series of Walking Vlogs that has been running for 3 and-a-half years now.

Jonas Mekas – A Walk (1990)

I shot a new ‘walking vlog’ yesterday – attempting to follow the footsteps of the characters from Patrick Keiller’s seminal film London – on their first walk, from Vauxhall to Strawberry Hill. I shot this in the style I make all my walking videos, on the hoof, talking to camera as I walk, grabbing quick hand-held cutaways as I go, placing the experience of the walk ahead of the necessities of film-making – a style that Iain Sinclair described as ‘grunge Keiller’ (back in 2005). Stylistically this is about as far away from Keiller’s studied locked off 35mm cinematography and beautifully crafted and delivered commentary as you can get. But it’s a style that works for me. Keiller had screened his early short films of London at the London Film-makers’ Co-op (Stonebridge Park and Norwood) – a further link between these worlds. It’s a pleasant surprise that this urge to write about online video making and culture (partly instigated by the brilliant Shane Dwason series on Jake Paul) has led me in this direction – back to some of my original film-making influences at the confluence of my interest in and study of London.


(there’s a further thread that takes in the films of John Smith, and the Paul Kelly/St Etienne Keiller-inspired films of London but I think that would be over-egging the pudding and I’ve already explored that in other posts – for example an article I wrote in 2006 for UEL’s Journal of East London Studies – Waves of Disappearance: cinematic topographies of the North Eastern frontier )


The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet by Patrick Keiller

Patrick Keiller book

I found this copy of Patrick Keiller’s The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet next to a nice edition of The Illustrated Pepys in a charity shop on Saturday – a placement that surely can’t have been accidental. Needless to say I bought them both.

The opening page reads:

“In August 2010, I completed a film that begins with a series of captions: ‘A few years ago, while dismantling a derelict caravan in the corner of a field, a recycling worker found a box containing 19 film cans and a notebook./ Researchers have arranged some of this material as a film, narrated by their institution’s co-founder, with the title / Robinson in Ruins. / The wandering it describes began on 22 January 2008.”

The film cans belonged to Robinson – Keiller’s unseen character in his first two feature length films, London and Robinson in Space. The film mentioned above was Robinson in Ruins, which I have mentioned on this blog before.

The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet was published to accompany an exhibition at the Tate that followed on from the film and allowed Patrick Keiller to ‘arrange the material in other ways’, that included items from the Tate collection. The resulting installation was called The Robinson Institute.

Keiller’s films are multi-layered, dense with research that deserves repeated viewings to fully digest. They are not only essay films but essays equally suited to book form as well as the screen. Robinson in Space for example draws heavily on the government’s Port Statistics. London follows multiple literary references. And likewise, Robinson in Ruins was part of an academic research project called The Future of the Landscape and the Moving Image, which was “prompted by ‘a perceived discrepancy between, on the one hand the critical and cultural attention devoted to experience of mobility and displacement and, on the other, a tendency to fall back on formulations of dwelling derived from a more settled, agricultural past.”

Having watched Robinson in Ruins a number of times, I can say this book is a brilliant addition to the Keiller canon, to sit alongside his 2014 book of essays, The View from the Train. We wait now in anticipation of his next film.

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 place 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.