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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 July 2012
Patrick Keiller's 1994 film London is part-historical artifact, part-political rant and part-comedic account of the journey around London made by the film's unnamed narrator (voiced in memorable, lilting style by Paul Scofield) and his friend, some-time partner and researcher Robinson. Shot and scripted by Keiller, the film is a brilliantly evocative collage of the capital city during the 1992 post-Thatcher era (a time of IRA bombings, increasing homelessness, city crashes and urban deterioration), as depicted by Keiller's short, ever-changing camera shots overlain with a stark and haunting soundtrack (featuring the music of Beethoven and Bach) and Scofield's witty and poignant voice-over. In addition to the modern-day observational (and political) content, the film is also a fascinating account of the artistic history and (often obscure) cultural connections of the city, as Keiller unearths such links for the likes of Montaigne, Malarme, Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

However, what really makes London standout as a work of cinema is the visual imagery with which Keiller has imbued his creation. Whether this be in the form of shots of iconic London landmarks such as Tower Bridge or Battersea power station, more obscure urban shots such as that of Brent Cross shopping centre or the Baltic Exchange building in the aftermath of the IRA bomb, or the more naturalistic shots of lone crocuses emerging from the urban rubble or mesmerising ripples created by raindrops in a puddle, Keiller's creative filmic touch is spot on. As, of course, is his eye for moments of wry humour, such as his spotting of a direction sign to an exhibition of misspelled artist 'Margitte' or his use of a Baudelaire quote accompanied by the visual backdrop of a McDonald's restaurant.

Despite the odd occasions where Keiller identifies more positive aspects to the city's outlook, such as the easygoing multiculturalism of the Notting Hill Festival or Robinson's rather fanciful notion that the decline of the city's financial status might give rise to a resurgent bohemianism, the overriding image created by London is that of degeneration. Sadly, this is emphasised by the 'what goes around, comes around' nature of some of the running themes (or should that be sores?) of the film, such as Leicester Square having the appearance of a building site and the interminable series of city crashes (and consequent recessions). One is left with the inevitable conclusion of the film-makers that, London, having lost (nearly) all its sense of identity, 'in this alone, it is truly modern.'

London is a powerful, evocative and highly original work.

The BFI box set also contains Keiller's sequel to London, Robinson in Space. Here, our intrepid pair give their urban London treatment to the city's suburbs. For me, this is a slightly less impressive effort than the earlier film, but still well worth watching.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 16 June 2012
In 1800 London's population was 850,000 by 1900 it had grown to 6.5m - the largest city ever known.

I found this film by accident on LoveFilm. I thought it might just have a few good pictures of London before I arrived there in 1994. I wasn't prepared for a sublime script with Quentin Crisp-style humour.

Robinson is one of England's great comic characters. 'Robinson lives in the way people were said to live in the cities of the Soviet Union. His income is small but he saves most of it. He isn't poor because he lacks money but because everything he wants is unobtainable.' It's a melancholy tale in the style of Three Men in a Boat. We here about his pilgrimages across London with his engaging gay (?) lover, who is the narrator.

Robinson 'misses the smell of cigarette ash and urine that used to linger in the Neo-Georgian phone boxes that appear on London postcards'. We get his highly idiosyncratic perspective on the history of different areas. The film uses quotation and anecdote beautifully. I'm glad I did a degree in French, as I'm not sure Rimbaud, Montaigne and Baudelaire are household names in England. I felt this film was made just for me.

I spent eight years in London, I edited a community website based in Paddington and I tried to get to grips with the 'spirit' of the city. I loved the passage from Alexander Herzen and the poem from Baudelaire about 'life is a hospital where every patient is obsessed by the desire of changing beds'.

I also loved the cinematic style. The floating Ronald McDonald, Concorde grazing the roof tiles on a suburban house, the eerie spectacle of John Major returning to Downing Street. How vain it all seems in retrospect.

Bohemianism is my thing, so I shared Robinson's disappointment at not finding other examples of literary and creative revolt in places like Tesco and IKEA. He found the restaurant there, 'tainted by the ill-humour that so often accompanies questions of interior design.'

The pastoral adventures are contrasted with the harsh landscape. I too yearn for the day when the Bank of England reopens as a discotheque.

The soundtrack adds to the saturnine moods. The narrator points out how quickly the people forget about the IRA bombs, and we get a sense of how quickly we forget everything, especially in the city.

Maybe it's Whit Stillman as documentary, high-brow and arthouse, but I feel I've discovered a great English humorist at work.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
This DVD brings together two films. For avoidance of doubt, they are arty, hypnotic and have no plot or action. Unless you like these kind of films, please don't disappoint yourself with these.

On the other hand, if you like moving photos from still cameras with esoteric deadpan narration that may or may not be related to the picture, this could be right up your alley.

London follows the narrator as he explores London during the 1992 general election. The film is not about the election, but does comment on it, along with commentary on Rimbaud, economics, poor teaching salaries and the state of decay in Britain. The imagery is stunning, and I especially love the shot of aeroplanes landing apparently in open fields.

Robinson in Space features the travels of the narrator and his friend (and former lover) Robinson around the country to assess the problem with Britain. Each journey seems to end at a port, and features long shots of roundabouts, cheap travel hotels, supermarkets, etc with surreal narration. A highlight was the visit to the manufacturer of restraints in the Black Country (long external shot of the factory gates), in which Robinson bought a pair of handcuffs. Again, neither Robinson nor narrator is seen.

Both films are hypnotic - after a while you realise you are not taking in any of what is being said, it is delivered with so little impact (without ever being monotone). You can stop at any point and pick up days or weeks later. But something keeps you going - just one more shot...

These are like Andy Warhol films - meant for viewing rather than watching. I adore them.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Two interesting films looking at the UK in the 1990s through the eyes of the narrator and his companion, Robinson.

The first, LONDON, looks at London in 1992 using the General Election of that year as a focal point, and the second, ROBINSON IN SPACE, sees the pair travel around the country in a research project for an unknown employer.

There is no plot, storyline or characters (save the narrator & Robinson who are never seen, or in Robinson's case heard) but the films have a hypnotic quality, being shot with stationary cameras and a melancholy feel to the narrative delivered by Paul Scofield. Throughout both films the cinematography is accompanied by interesting if trivial facts and personal anecdotes of the narrator.

The scenes are interesting in themselves, providing a contrast to today's country, both capturing a sense of post-industrial decay and a nation in decline basking in the final rays of a faded past glory.

This is particularly the case in Robinson in Space, set 3 years after London. Robinson becomes increasingly more eccentric, his decline mirroring the landscape he travels through, his behaviour deteriorating as the expedition progresses northwards.

Robinson in Space also has a more desperate feel than London, and there are several allusions to Robinson sexuality. The implication is that he is gay although as far as I could ascertain there was no evidence to support the previous reviewer's assertion that Robinson and the narrator had been lovers.

Both these films chronicle the era well, reflecting changes in values and fortune if not renewal of early post-Thatcherite era. Watch, reflect and consider - history didn't all happen in a blaze of glory many years ago, it's being made around us everyday.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2011
I found these films through a course on films and literature about London, and the first of these two films is certainly a must for anyone who loves the city and its interwoven histories and architectural, social and political fabric.
In both films, Keiller explores the idea of psychogeography fantastically through the use of long, still-camera shots with Schofield's deadpan voice-over lending gentle irony.
Quite simply beautiful, capturing a picture of Britain at a certain point in time, looking back and reflecting on its past.
Can't recommend highly enough.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 2 September 2010
...London and Robinson in Space remain the defining documents of Britain in the 1990s. If you like hollywood blockbusters or buddy movies, perhaps like the customer who rated L/RiS 1 (miaow), then clearly this twinset is not for you. For everybody else with a brain and an interest in the politics of place... if you've not seen them... it'll change you.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2010
If you like the attention paid to detail and the lingering shots of architectural and cultural little pieces of London in the film "London", you'll like this DVD of it. Someone has taken great care to make DVD menus that fit perfectly with the austere yet perfectly judged visual aesthetic of the films.
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A sort of travelogue about the social and economic state of Britain (at the time of making, but with relevance today)

A (fictional??) Robinson makes the trip with a nameless 'Boswell' as narator making observations in a dry, deadpan humour.
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on 19 May 2015
London is unique and for that alone it deserves five stars. But it's also mesmeric and compelling - drawing you in to this at once ordinary and extraordinary world - familiar and yet bygone.
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18 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2010
Ignore all fulsome reviews of these films. !DO NOT GET SUCKERED IN!

London and Robinson in Space are not "delightful", "quirkily eccentric", nor "offbeat", nor any of the other catch-all terms regularly tacked onto them by Accepted Opinion. Neither do they offer particularly new or incisive political critiques of their subject matter. Most egregiously of all they are, at best, artistically derivative (Herzog's Fata Morgana; Greenaway's The Falls; Chris Marker's Sans Soleil are all similar in form and are all infinitely superior), and, at worst, disingenuous and lumpen. Add to this, the Eighties' wounded-Left political agenda (unsubtly and pertinaciously pursued through every reel and syllable) trespassing on ground that would have been better served by either an objective, open-minded film-maker or a thorough-going subjective poetic engagement...and you have the recipe for truly objectionable cinema.

Two shots, in particular, give away Patrick Keiller's limited outlook, revealling the studied stylistics to be nothing more than superficial imitation. One: a lingering take of a road maintenance man hosing down roadside plants ("delicious in its unconscious suggestiveness"). The second: a group of navy cadets looking uncomfortable in suits on a quayside. Now, both would, I've no doubt, along with the rest of the work, be hailed by the film's advocates as wry, ironic, allowing the pictures to say more than a thousand words, etc.; but to me they are symptomatic of the films as a whole: sneering, cowardly, and just plain unconvincing.

Above all, unlike those films previously mentioned, London and Robinson in Space do not leave a litany of potent images and ideas to linger in the mind, demanding of repeated viewings. They exist strictly on an intellectual mono-level. Textbook examples of film as Sounding Brass and Tinkling Bell
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