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London (1994) Patrick Keiller
BFI

Classics Corner: ‘London’ (1994)

Director Patrick Keiller recalls his seminal blend of fiction and documentary

By Josh Baines
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‘The film is based around three journeys taken by an unseen central character called Robinson. He is reporting on the “problem of London”. The city’s capture by global finance and the housing crisis weren’t as advanced as they are now – those problems would be different now.

‘The character of Robinson was devised to [help us] examine ideas about the city that one might entertain but would perhaps would not endorse. He’s a part-time lecturer in a former polytechnic and must be quite old now. He reminds me of a few people I know.

‘The first journey was along the river from Teddington Lock to Tower Bridge; the second was from Clapham Common to Stoke Newington; and the last was along the River Brent. They were interrupted by major events during the year, like Diwali in Southall or the general election. We’d film and then continue on.

‘Shooting took ten months and usually it was just me and my partner Julie Norris, the assistant director, working on it. We filmed two days a week, plus the occasional evening. [Actor] Paul Scofield provided the narration which frames the film after it had been edited.

‘There was no expectation that “London” would reverberate in the way it has. I was very surprised when it played in the West End for three months but it was unusual to see one’s everyday surroundings represented in 35mm back then. Perhaps that’s still part of the appeal.’

‘London’ screens at the Herne Hill Free Film Festival on Fri May 31, 8pm.

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