In the last few weeks of class, my professor showed two films focused on (you guessed it) London.
One was more focused on still shots and a narrative of a British man named Robinson, who struggles with the modernity of the City, and his friend, the narrator. This film, titled “London,” was directed by Patrick Keiller and features images from the later half of the 1900s. Robinson lives in Vauxhall which is apparently a district of London home to the gardens, a place for lavish entertainments and meetups. The entire attitude seems to be that London has been simultaneously rebuilt and suffocated by all the modernizations and renovations. At one point the voiceover calls London the “most unsociable place in Europe” for its shipwrecked communities and hard to access housing and businesses. This reality for Robinson convinces him to quit his passion of traveling all over the world because London is enough of an everyday trek to make him want to move “away from people and into solitude.” This undoubtedly is a very complicated view of the City.
The second film was “What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?” which was made by Paul Kelly. The 2005 film “follows a young paperboy’s adventure across London’s last remaining wilderness in the Lea Valley on the eve of the Olympic development” (Saint Etienne quoted here). This film shows London a few decades later than the Keiller’s work, and it uses the approaching London Olympic games as a pressure on time. The argument here is that London is a hub of derelict spaces. In the shots of buildings, the street addresses, architecture and mailboxes lack uniformity and are painted on or barely hanging on in all different shapes and colors. The paradigm presented, that is of a modern city that is stuck in the past and uninhabited by many, shows a London that has stopped progressing. The question is: why?
Upon viewing both of these movies, I found the tone to be rather similar. Both “What Have You Done Today” and “London” portray London in a not-so-positive light with an emphasis on construction’s impact on the locals’ sense of belonging. For the newer film, even with the lack of organization within the architecture, the people still showed an intense pride in their city and country. Making room for the Olympics was a generally exciting ordeal because of the greater themes of sportsmanship and worldly cooperation the Olympics bring about. But not all were pleased about it. There were a few business owners who believed the Olympics would produce more unused space due to the high cost of living anywhere near such a prestigious property, and I don’t blame them. I suppose that conversation just brings up the complexity of building anything; in order to build something from the ground, the ground must first be cleared. It’s the principle of losing something to gain another. That goes for Keiller’s London, too, with its sometimes lost and always wanting character of Robinson. It’s as though Robinson is living multiple lifetimes within his own singular existence, and now the film gives us somewhat access into living his life, too. We inhabit his path. Through the use of these films and the visual entrance into London, it’s as though both directors are bringing people, the audience, back to the deserted London they know.