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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 7 March 2014
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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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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on 12 June 2016
Great film, great condition, thanks a lot!:)c
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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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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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on 10 April 2013
I'd just like to add to the other positive critiques presented here by emphasising the accessibility and pleasure to be had for the wider cinema audience coming to these films. Watching them is one of those cinematic experiences which stands-out as distinctive and memorably different. True examples of auteur film-making these films are stylistically and thematically of-a-piece and share a distinct, idiosyncratic character. They may be subversive 'art' films but they are far more accessible than most --certainly more so than Warhol's for example. And they are very beautifully crafted.

Most people are likely to respond to the unusual and intriguing way the film-maker's approach blurs the distinction between documentary and fictional cinema. It's a different vibe on offer here which you don't get to experience in the mainstream and is entertainingly engaging on that level alone. They appear to be straight but actually are enjoyably playful and subversive and transparently constructed --something that reveals itself very quickly. The narrator gives you the the wink early on that something different's afoot and as you get into them you find yourself insidiously immersed in a distinct atmosphere in which a familiar city/landscape becomes subtly transformed. This is principally achieved by the interpretation presented in the narration as you travel in the company of a couple of slightly cracked 'explorers'.

The wheeze is that the films come on as mock documents: a sort of factual and objective diary-come-journal constructed by the narrator who has been enlisted by the main protagonist --his chum and ex-lover 'Robinson' --to record his exploration of London (the first film) which then broadens to England in the second film. Robinson, as expedition leader, has certain theories regarding the political shaping of the topography of city and country; theories which reflect his personal background as a product of late 60's radicalism with all that implies regarding the heavy influence of French intellectual thinking of the period and in particular The Situationist International. None of this is art subtext is gone into overtly in the film (don't worry it's very far from a leaden theoretical diatribe) and actually you don't need to be familiar with any of it in order to enjoy what's going on.

The theory is imbedded in the structure of the film however and in particular Robinson's actions (his expeditions) are clearly signposted for those in the know as him engaging in an exercise in psychogeography. If you're interested, this conceptual activity emerged as one of the ideas originally spun-out of the Situationists and has subsequently been developed in different ways by British writers and artists in the 1990s and since. The 'Robinson' films are cited as manifestations of psychogeography and Robinson is a fictional take on the generational 'type' of artist/writer typically engaged in this sort of activity. As such I assume he operates as a sort of alter-ego for the film-maker --albeit a satirical and amusingly dodgy one. As the films progress, Robinson's rather obsessive and increasingly paranoid ideas begin to lead him into problems. Even the narrator openly disputes his interpretation and ultimately becomes drawn into his chum's unravelling situation. Both films end badly for poor old Robinson, besieged as he is by Toryism and the depressing history his investigations reveal. This is all done via the narration since we never see the protagonists.

Obviously, both characters present the radical-chic subversion and Leftist critique typical of the generation and type currently engaged in psychogeographical work. Consequently if you are so entrenched in the opposite political camp that you can't detach yourself from the politics sufficiently enough to enjoy an objective aesthetic response to these films (as appears to be the case with another reviewer on this site) then I should spare yourself the agony of confronting these annoying fictional Lefties. Unless of course you enjoy whipping yourself into a froth over this sort of thing. Personally as a wishy-washy arty Liberal type, that's not a problem for me. I think it won't be for most British people either, because viewed simply as a striking form of documentary essay, both these films offer meticulously researched, factually accurate and coherent views of contemporary Britain. Those facts are interesting, if sobering ones and the films stand as accurately evocative expressions of a nation in transition. As ever. For anyone who lived in this country at the time (no matter of what political persuasion) they will agree, I suspect, that these films recall the cultural ambience of first half of the 1990's very well. For this reason alone they are very honourable additions to British documentary cinema. The mock document idea (permitting the film-maker objective distancing from Robinson's commentary) paradoxically produces a genuinely valid cinematic documentary record. Given the creative ingenuity of this form and the high aesthetic quality evident in the films' style and technical craftsmanship, they certainly deserve a place in the pantheon of great British cinema.

Above all however, I respond to them principally as very stylish contemporary topographical essays of great beauty.

Shot and written by one man, the director Patrick Keiller, these films are superbly crafted examples of the subtle interplay between sound and vision possible in cinema. The skill with which this is done means that there is nothing stodgy or laboured about this stately-paced, reflective piece looking at what is potentially dry subject matter. As pointed out elsewhere there are fore-runners to the basic idea of fusing documentary and fictional feature film-making but Keiller's personal approach is an original one and fully realised. The closest to it in his predecessors I can think of is in certain of Peter Greenaway's early short films. But those were significantly different in essential character and objective. So criticism of Keiller for being unoriginal seems entirely unfair and misplaced to me. Particularly given the refined, completely-resolved form Keiller's 'Robinson' films demonstrate. These are self-evidently polished auteur pieces of high artistic quality.

Adopting an overtly static sequential approach recalling the Pictorialist tradition at the heart of British landscape art, the most banal and kitschy scenes are transformed by the cinematographer's skilful framing and the alchemy of lens and film stock into gorgeous images. The combination of traditionally refined imagery with the visual detritus and junk of cultural wasteland produce a radical-chic contemporary aesthetic that is consistently developed across the two films, objectively accurate, and historically connected to the British landscape art tradition. A fine and fresh modern addition entirely in keeping with the subject matter: the British cultural topography in transition. The ironic interplay possible by combining these essentially lyrical images with a politically-charged history narrative underscored by atmospheric use of music and live sound, makes for a rich and varied expressive cinema. A perversely romantic one, I feel, given the tragi-comic nature of Robinson's transition through the landscape.

The net result: personal films that exude a lyrical and very English melancholy as old as the hills and which anyone who loves this country is likely to recognise and respond to. I certainly do.
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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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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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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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