Monday, 27 July 2009

London (1992) Revisited

I am home alone at the moment – the family having debarked on a trip to visit the grandparents up north. In such circumstances I usually fall into an unhealthy pattern of staying up too late and drinking too much on my own. As I did last night making some inroads into a bottle of 12 year old malt – a recent present from a very old friend. My cable is down at the moment so I am raiding a stack of long neglected DVDs for my late night entertainment – last night I dug out, possibly for subconscioulsy sentimental reasons another present from the same friend, one from many years ago – Patrick Keiller’s ‘London’.

Made in 1994 before the onset of reality-TV and attention deficit disorder media, the film essay with its silent static camera work and dead-pan voice over has an unashamedly art-house feel to it. It covers a year in London – 1992 – through the eyes of two fictional characters – the narrator and his friend, Robinson. In a series of ‘expeditions’ they criss-cross the city on the pretext of some fairly obscure historical / literary quests. And along the way they document the state of the capital.The prevailing mood is one of decline and an abandonment of a sense of the future.

Reading reviews of the film from the intervening years since it came out they all seem to be saying – rather smugly – that things haven’t turned out as badly as Keiller predicted after all. But that of course was pre-recession – watching it last night again I felt the opposite.

In 1992 the Tories had been in power for 13years and people were talking of a one-party state, an IRA bombing campaign had created a climate of terrorism-scares, and the slump had begun with the developers of Canary Wharf – that temple of 80’s Thatcherism – going into administration. The final round of pit closures that finished the work of the miners’ strike was met with one of the biggest protest marches of recent years. Greeting the news that John Major has secured another election victory for the Tories, the fictional character Robinson predicts;

" his flat would continue to deteriorate and his rent increase – he would be intimidated by vandalism and petty crime – the bus service would get worse – there would be more traffic and noise pollution and an increased risk of getting knocked down – there would be more drunks pissing in the street when he looked out the window – there would be more children taking drugs when he came home at night – his job would be at risk and subject to interference – his income would decline – he would drink more and less well – he would be ill more often and would die sooner – for the old or anyone with children it would be much worse – the public transport system would degenerate into chaos – there would be more road schemes and hospitals would close – as the social security system was dismantled there would be increased homelessness and crime – with the police more often carrying guns …"

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