‘One of the most distinctive voices to emerge in British cinema since Peter Greenaway, Patrick Keiller was born in Blackpool in 1950. He studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and initially practised as an architect. Chris Marker’s film La Jetée (France, 1962) left a deep impression, but he only made practical steps towards cinema in 1979, when he joined the Royal College of Art’s Department of Environmental Media as a postgraduate student.
Slide-tape presentations blending architectural photography with fictional narratives pointed the way towards his first acknowledged film, Stonebridge Park (1981), visually inspired by a railway bridge in an outer London suburb. Images from a hand-held camera are accompanied by a voice-over commentary presenting the thoughts of a petty criminal panicked by the consequences of robbing his former employer. Norwood (1983) continued the ‘story’, and the technique, in another London suburb. Short films of increasing technical sophistication climaxed in 1989 with The Clouds, a further topographical exploration combining another anxious fictional commentary with imagery derived from a journey across the north of England from Jodrell Bank to Whitby.’ – BFI
It is in Keiller’s feature-length films that his idiosyncratic approach is fully allowed to grow and develop.The landscape of memory, landscape of the future, psychogeography, preoccupations with architecture, the change of surroundings, the poetics between the layers of the mundane, Keiller’s films are cinematic essays and so much more.
‘Since 1980, Keiller has made films that elasticize the links between the everyday we occupy and how we think and feel. While certain themes cohere like the pre-history, nostalgia, melancholia, childhood, each is a visual encounter with specific material spaces. Each film also has a narration that tells a story, part travelogue, part faux memoir spoken with a voice that distinguishes itself in some way or another. Keiller’s films ask us to enjoy a relationship between the landscape we see and a monologue we hear, a relationship that ranges from didactic to fanciful. The films produce an assimilation of the material world that is by turns sensuous, contemplative, and above all, utopian in spirit for they urge us to develop a nomad’s perception of space.’ – luxonline
Keiller’s portrait of a city in decay. His shots are static, still. The mind is free to wander, like the narrator’s words, referencing, making historical connections, using the character of Robinson to relate views of London (in specific, the ‘problem of London’) in his quest of encounters.
“For Londoners, London is obscured. Too thinly spread, too private for anyone to know. Its social life invisible, its government abolished, its institutions at the discretion of either monarchy or state or the City, where at the historic centre there nothing but a civic void, which fills and empties daily with armies of clerks and dealers, mostly citizens of other towns. The true identity of London, he said, is in its absence. As a city it no longer exists. In this alone it is truly modern. London was the first metropolis to disappear.”
Robinson in Space (1997)
Robinson in Space is a continuation from ‘London’, but this time Robinson’s purpose becomes the study of the ‘problem of England’.
‘The film gives names and history to the otherwise anonymous structures that organize our world and they are largely windowless, apparently unpopulated, the labour hidden, exploited, and massive in scale. Prisons, electricity, coal, manufacturing plants, ports, Robinson presses on, and in the quiet of the fixed frame, we see architecture as an archive from which history might emerge.’ – luxonline
Robinson in Ruins (2010)
Robinson in Ruins concerns nature, the countryside in and around Oxford, narrated now by Vanessa Redgrave after the death of the narrator of the previous two films, Paul Scofield. Robinson in Ruins performs the function of articulating a second, poetic geography on top of the geography of the literal
On the character of ‘Robinson’
is, in many ways, a compendium of emotional states, experiences,
attitudes, and ideas assembled from a dazzling array of sources,
including works by not only Defoe but also, among others, Baudelaire,
Rimbaud, and the Russian writer Alexander Herzen. […]
Sinclair suggests, furthermore, that Keiller’s Robinson
occupies the same intertextual space as a host of earlier twentiethcentury
Robinsons, including not only secondary characters in
Kafka’s America and Celine’ s Journey to the End of the Night but also the
angst-ridden urbanite who is a touchstone for the speaker in poems
by the American poet Weldon Kees, who ruminates:
Robinson in sleep, … mumbles as he turns,
“There is something in this madhouse that I symbolizeThis
There is, furthermore, a clear kinship between Keiller’s Robinson and
the eponymous hero of Christopher Petit’s 1993 novel, Rnbinson. The
narrator of that book undertakes “voyage[s] of the night” in London’s
Soho district with Robinson, whom he describes as “a long voyager”
and whom he sees as “alone, isolated from the rest.” The Robinson in
Petit’s novel is seen as possessed of a “clinical inquisitiveness”; the
narrator describes him as “Robinson the industrious, Robinson at his
books.”46 Keiller’s Robinson, then, is an evidently fictional construct,
deriving from or resonating with a whole tradition of Robinsons,
stretching back to Defoe and forward through many tales of voyaging,
(Protestant) isolation, shipwreck, and gloom."