Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)

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A boy rotates within a sheer curtain. The twisting fabric tightly envelopes him like a shroud over a cadaver, his closed eyes visible though the material. Color is muted, the sky dull behind him, the flowers stitched into the material are white. As he slowly (and in slow motion) revolves, the sound of kids playing outside registers, but the noise is faint, distant. Eventually, an adult hand enters the frame, and a slap round the head jolts young Ryan Quinn, and the viewer, out of their reveries. 

This opening prepares us for a child’s subjectivity, but it won’t belong to Ryan. The premonition contained within this image is fulfilled within minutes, as he disappears beneath the surface of a grimy canal, accidentally drowned while engaged in rough play with his friend James Gillespie (William Eadie). From here, we remain alongside this other boy, as he negotiates his feelings of unspoken guilt alongside his uneasy growing pains. 

The setting of Lynn Ramsay’s Ratcatcher is a decrepit Glaswegian council estate in the midst of 1973’s lengthy refuse collectors strike. Garbage bags and litter accumulate on streets and lawns. Public health concerns are mounting over the resulting rat infestation. Behind the estate, the canal offers a permanent reminder to James of his guilt. Existing amongst this squalor, the inhabitants are simply waiting to leave. As the council slowly sets about rehousing their tenants, the five strong Gillespie family dream of moving out of their tiny flat, into a place where they don’t need a bed in the kitchen, and with an indoor toilet. These characters feel lived in. The naturalistic performances that Ramsay elicits from her non-professional cast leave us in no doubt. These are real lives before us. 

James is happier in the company of women than with men. While his drunken father seeks to bond over football (the consuming interest of British males), he loathes the sport. Although he modestly complains when asked to dance by his mother, he rarely seems happier than when hugging her stomach and swaying to Tom Jones. This skinny boy is twelve years old, caught in the liminal space between childhood and adolescence, increasingly conscious of sexual desire, yet not fully comprehending it. Not truly a part of the gang of older boys who roam the estate, yet more worldly than the other boy present, animal loving Kenny, James forms a bond with the teenage Margaret Anne. 

This girl is first encountered in an outhouse on the bank of the ever-present canal, giving herself sexually to the collective gang, receiving no pleasure in return. The boys treat her roughly, taking her glasses and throwing them into the water. She invites James to sit next to her, encouraging him to place his hand on her leg. The camera lingers on a red graze upon her knee. As their friendship builds, their innocent play blurs with connotations of the sexual. Meanwhile, his continuing witness to Margaret Anne’s abuse by the boys, and of aggression from his father towards his mother, shake his understanding of his own place in the world. Two separate and unwanted gifts – a pair of football boots and the shoes that Ryan’s mother was buying her son as he died – bind his secret guilt and his troubled sense of masculinity together. 

Trained as a photographer, Ramsay combines striking compositions with an earthy color palate, investing the desolate landscapes with extraordinary beauty, aided by Rachel Portman’s sparse soundtrack. This isn’t purely a work of social realism. Horror gives way to whimsy in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, as Kenny attaches the tail of his pet mouse to a balloon, and watches it drift upwards. Ramsay cuts to the destination Kenny imagines for his beloved pet. A group of mice scurry around the surface of moon, feasting on its dairy based soil. 

James discovers a fantasy of his own. Taking a random bus ride beyond the edge of the city, a rare occasion that we see beyond the confines of the estate and its canal, he comes across a deserted building site on which new family-size homes are being constructed. Exploring one of the houses, he is entranced by the field behind it, rows of bright yellow wheat growing as far as the eye can see. As James climbs through an empty window frame, it appears that he is entering into a painting, a new and magical realm. It isn’t clear that these houses are the ones intended for families such as his to be rehoused in, but for James this is now his dream of the future. 

Ratcatcher unfolds a world away from Lynne Ramsay’s recent, and brutal, New York set You Were Never Really Here. Yet both are very much the work of the same filmmaker. In each, a female perspective is granted to a traditionally male genre (the action thriller and the boy’s coming of age story), both take place in worlds where men act violently towards women, and where sons are attached to mothers. Each renders subjectively the lives of characters whose experience of the world is shaped by trauma. If I declare my preference for Ratcatcher over the morose You Were Never Really Here, it might be summed up by the fact that I find the plastic sheet which Joe (Joachim Phoenix) pulls to his face to be suffocating. Ryan’s curtain gives me room to breathe. 

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Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)

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Joachim Trier’s haunting Oslo, August 31st has its roots within the 1920s Paris avant-garde. The writer Jacques Rigaut (1898-1929) was a dandy and dadaist whose work, most of which came to light posthumously, revealed a preoccupation with death. “Suicide is a vocation,” he once declared. In 1928, four years after following a wealthy heiress to New York, he returned to the French capital, leaving behind a disastrous marriage and now an alcoholic and heroin addict. On 6 November 1929, he fulfilled his vocation. Using a ruler to ensure that he did not miss, he shot himself through the heart. The death provided the basis for the novel Le Fou Follet (1931), by Rigaut’s friend Pierre Drieu la Rochelle. In 1963, Louis Malle adapted the novel for his acclaimed film of the same name, casting Maurice Ronet as the doomed alcoholic roaming the streets of Paris. For his take on the novel, Joachim Trier relocates the drama to modern day Oslo, granting the city itself pride of place in the film’s title.

As the film begins, Anders, a handsome and likable intellectual in his mid-thirties, is nearing the end of his treatment at a clinic for drug and alcohol addition outside the city center. Afforded 24 hours leave to attend a job interview, he spends his time in the city reconnecting with old friends, haunted by the past, and struggling to contemplate his future. At the center of the film, Anders Danielsen Lee gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the damaged protagonist. His mental state driving the narrative, Anders’ expressive features alert the viewer to depths of emotion to which those he encounters remain oblivious. Only a little girl detects the monster that lurks within his wiry frame, her sketch of Anders as a troll foreshadowing a hurtful description of an addict as a “goblin.” Lunching with his friend Thomas, in a scene fraught with miscommunication, Anders refers to role play exercises in the clinic, hinting at what might be his deepest need, a craving to be told that he is forgiven. He is denied that release here, and this desire is eventually turned against him. Anders’ friends are absorbed in role play of their own, covering the pains of growing older, and the disappointments that life has wrought. 

Anders’ descent may be traced through three attempts at a telephone conversation with his ex-girlfriend, Iselin, who is currently working in New York. The tone of the messages that he leaves, and their position in the narrative, divides the film into three acts of roughly equal length, each representing a different phase in Anders’ existential journey. These might be summarized as the search for a reason to go on, the insurmountable consequences of the past, and (beginning with the theft of money to purchase a large quantity of heroin) an acceptance of his fate. Throughout, the narrative moves inexorably towards its conclusion. With every slight that he receives, each reminder of the hurt that he has caused, Anders is nudged along his path. 

As night sets in, Anders is pulled back into a familiar world of night clubs and house parties. A glass of wine is grabbed without a pause, a darker side of his personality briefly asserts itself. But, as the film enters a potentially miserable final act, Trier strikes a hazy, elegiac tone. A connection made with an attractive young student might represent a chance at redemption, but what hope can someone healthily looking forward at the beginning of adult life (and training as a nutritionist, no less) bring to someone so thoroughly persuaded that that life has nothing to offer? Over a montage of vintage and home movie footage that opens the film, one of several voices refers to a former partner who  “insisted melancholy was cooler than nostalgia.”  Both moods pervade Oslo, August 31st, but while a early morning swim at summer’s end might be the perfect fodder for the latter emotion, the draining of the pool is imminent.

Anders’ vulnerability is constantly evoked through the ways in which the camera captures him in relation to the city that he moves through. He is lost or dwarfed when viewed in extreme long shot, dislocated when caught in close up by the kinetic movement of a handheld camera, frequently hemmed in by scaffolding or underpasses. Just as he comes to realize the necessity of his leaving Oslo, those who turn away from him most resolutely, taking care of their own wellbeing, are themselves focused away from the city. Iselin now lives in New York. Anders’ sister’s excuse for avoiding him is a work meeting, “some foreign affairs thing.” Oslo produces a malaise in all who submit to it. The happiest of the old friends that Anders comes across admits to having no idea what to do with his life. The opening montage concludes with a demolition, a centrally located office building symbolically crashing to the floor. Oslo, August 31st feels less a love letter to a city than an invitation to its wake.

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The source for the biographical material contained in the first paragraph is an essay by Terry Hale, contained in the book “4 Dada Suicides” (Atlas Press, 2005).

 

Dead End (William Wyler, 1937)

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The dead end sign sits where Manhattan’s Lower East Side meets the water. Here, the poor have long struggled in squalid tenements while next door, in a manner painfully reminiscent of today’s gentrification struggles, the wealthy luxuriate in newly built condominiums situated to capitalize on the river views. Adapted by Lillian Hellman from a hit stage play by Sidney Kingsley, William Wyler’s Dead End follows a group of people stuck in this literal and metaphorical cul-de-sac over a space of a day. The film brims with the cynicism of the depression era, taking swipes at the police and penal system, the fourth estate, and the empty dream of upward mobility.

In an attempt to blunt any social commentary, MGM’s Louis Mayer insisted on the film being shot in a Los Angeles studio rather than Wyler’s preference for an actual New York slum. John Breen, Head of the Production Code Administration, had recommended that the film should be “less emphatic, throughout, in the photographing of this script in showing the contrast between conditions of the poor in tenements and those of the rich in apartment houses” (Carl Rollyson, qtd. Terence Hoagwood, Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 41 iss. 1). Whether or not the magnificent set fully delivers on Breen’s suggestion is debatable.  Cinematographer Gregg Toland invests the cockroach infested interiors, dirty alleyways, and hidden crannies of the docks with the expressive shadows later associated with film noir. On the other hand, the barred windows of the slums gaze mournfully towards a sun kissed, tree lined eden behind the walled enclosure of the condominium.

Drina (Sylvia Sidney), a striking shop worker, spends her days facing down the cops on the picket line, whilst dreaming of escaping the slums with her young brother. She is in love with the upstanding Dave (Joel McCrea), who trained to be an architect so as to build a better neighborhood. His reformist zeal is on hold, the only job he has found being as a sign painter. For his part, Dave is infatuated with Kay (Wendy Barrie), a young woman who escaped poverty via a loveless attachment to a wealthy man, and now resides in the plush tower beside the slum.

Into the mix comes the simmering “Baby Face” Martin (an electric early performance from Humphrey Bogart), a murderer with a price on his head, on a nostalgic home visit. First spurned by his anguished mother, then discovering that his first love, Francey, has turned to prostitution to survive, picking up syphilis along the way, the raging gangster looks for another way to capitalize on his journey. Claire Trevor’s lone scene as the tragic Francey earned her an Oscar nomination.

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With particular reference to Bogart’s early roles in The Petrified Forest (1936) and Dead End, Thomas Doherty notes in Pre-Code Hollywood (1999) that, in these early years of the enforced production code, “gangsters were magnetic intruders … not centers of attraction whose rise and fall dictated the trajectory of the narrative.” Indeed, rather than the big plans of “Baby Face”, much of Dead End is given over to the antics of a gang of street kids led by Drina’s brother, Tommy (Billy Halop). The child actors were ported from the Broadway play and, as The Dead End Kids, then The East Side Kids, and finally The Bowery Boys, they would appear together in numerous films and serials for Warner Brothers and Universal. Given perhaps more time on screen than any of the marquee actors, their constant presence can feel a frustrating diversion from the adult narrative. Nonetheless, the two intertwine, with Dave and “Baby Face” representing very different role models for Tommy, and paths that his lives may take. Tension between the two men rise as the gang’s antagonism of a rich kid brings Tommy to the attention of the police, but it is Tommy’s story that ultimately provides the film’s climax.

As dictated by the production code, any wrong doers are brought to justice. But a barbed commentary cuts through the film’s conclusion. The justice system works for those with money, and reform school is just a path towards a life of crime. For a woman, escape from the slums depends on selling yourself to a wealthy man. For a man, escape comes through violence. Eight men lost their lives so that “Baby Face” Martin could arrive in an expensive silk shirt. The message that to succeed, you need to make a killing, is ultimately reinforced. Of course, killing on a global scale would ultimately bring the depression to an end. While the adventures of “Baby Face” and young Tommy both culminate in violence, the greatest terror is experienced by the upwardly mobile Kay as she ventures into the darkness of Dave’s tenement building. For those poised precariously beyond its reach, poverty represents the greatest fear of all.

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The Other Side Of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki, 2017

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Through four decades of filmmaking, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki has forged an idiosyncratic path. His instantly recognizable work brings droll humor and warm compassion to melancholic tales of the dead beat or down on their luck. His mopey characters favor abrupt, deadpan dialogue and he matches this to a similar style of cinematography, utilizing largely static frames with little by way of camera flourish. This formal style well suits the chief concern of his  recent films, as with first Le Havre (2011), and now The Other Side of Hope (2016), he takes up the plight of the undocumented immigrant, an existence fraught with alienation and where communication requires that native languages are set aside.

The Other Side of Hope begins with the parallel stories of two proverbial fish out of water. We first encounter Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji), a young Syrian refugee who has lost most his family in a bombing in Aleppo. He emerges blackened from a load of coal in one of the container ships in the Helsinki port, and puts his faith in the system, immediately applying for asylum and being transferred to an immigration holding center. Elsewhere,  middle aged salesman Waldemar Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), kind hearted behind his stern exterior, sets about restructuring his life. He leaves his wife and job to pursue his dreams as a restauranteur. The dowdy establishment that he purchases – the site of much of the film’s comedy – is a poor prospect by every measure, from its name (The Golden Pint), to its location (“lots of wealthy students”), to its dissatisfied staff and menu (sardines served fresh in their tin).

The gap between the deliberate, stylized world that Kaurismäki creates and our own reality makes the inclusion of an actual news bulletin on the atrocities ravaging Aleppo all the more jarring. The report underlines Khaled’s harrowing account of his family’s fate and renders even more callous the authority’s decision that he does not require asylum. Khaled escapes into the city before he can be deported, and before long he is discovered amongst the garbage bins of the kindly Waldemar.

Kaurismäki places Khaled’s plight within the context of an ongoing cross-fertilization of cultures that enrich his new country even as his adversaries, the cold-hearted immigration officers and the fascist goons that lurk in the darkness, seek to refuse it. The oud plucked in the holding center’s dormitory resembles the guitar played on the stage of a local venue, where the Finnish musicians play a variation of American rock and roll. After the failing restaurant is hastily reinvented as a sushi joint, the chef has to resort to using salted herring as a key ingredient. The Japanese patrons leave without complaint.

While Le Havre was a sweet sunny affair in which a working class community comes together to help a young African boy evade the local police inspector and reunite with his mother, The Other Side Of Hope is altogether darker in tone. In part this is a result of palette, with much of the action occurring at night, or in parking garages, underpasses, and ill lit interiors. There is also the deadly threat posed by Khaled’s antagonizers, both fascists and immigration officers, who appear not dissimilar beneath the bulk of their uniforms. But one of this film’s great appeals lies in Kaurismäki’s resounding faith in humanity. Whilst those wielding power may do so with callousness and cruelty, the lower ranks of society – the asylum seekers, waiters, barmen, even people smugglers – are ready to act with kindness. For the good souls of Kaurismäki’s films, solace is so often to be found in the simplest things: good music, a plate of food and a pint of beer, or the attentions of a friendly dog. Ultimately, his world really isn’t so different to our own.

The Miners’ Hymns (Bill Morrison, 2010)

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I had no intention of writing about The Miners’ Hymns. My decision to watch it rested on its slender 52 minutes fitting the time I had available before leaving the house on New Year’s Eve. This was therefore the last film that I watched in 2017, and it haunted my entry into 2018, and has continued to resonate within me in the days since.

A poem without words, this film is a moving tribute to the mining communities of the northeast of England, and a lament to their fall. It opens, and later returns to, a contemporary aerial shot from a helicopter. It sweeps across the landscape, passing over steep cliffs, the green fields, and housing estates, to circle the locations of now closed pits. In contrast, the majority of the film is comprised of vintage black and white footage of the mine workers and their community. This includes stunning imagery shot within the mines themselves, men descending into the tunnels, picks striking at the coal face, carts revolving through the narrow twisty tracks. Meanwhile, children slide down the slag heaps, or play cricket in the streets. The footage is slowed and subtly edited together giving a sense of the constancy of the operations, the work as a continuing ritual through the ages, altered by technology but rooted to what has come before. Sometimes it is just the clothes worn that indicate that a cut from one shot to another spans multiple decades, elsewhere, horse drawn carts are transformed into modern machinery.

Beyond the film’s seamless editing, glue is provided by the elegiac score from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It binds the work together whilst contributing an emotional weight of its own, passing from haunting ambience, mournful vistas, until finally it soars. The electronic soundscape melds with church organ and brass instrumentation, linking it to the annual Durham Miners’ Gala, in particular the miners’ bands, and the Cathedral service that offers its conclusion. Today, while the pits are mostly gone, the Gala continues as a key event on the British trade union calendar, drawing 200,000 people in 2017, in part thanks to an appearance from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The vintage footage begins with a panorama of miners and their families as they gather at a rally for the opening of the aforementioned Gala. It knots together multiple decades, spanning from the birth of cinema to at least the 1960s. Men and women of all ages are present, from grandparents to children holding balloons. With their elegantly woven trade union banners raised high, dignified faces, hardened through labor, turn to stare into the camera. These people are fighters. A young boy eats a sandwich with one hand whilst gripping a toy pistol in the other. Perhaps he, or even his son, will be a miner in 1984, when we see strike breakers bused into the community and pitched battles between workers and the police.

The continuities of work, tradition, and community were ruptured by pit closures, hastened by the failure of the 1984 miners strike, itself a response to a politically motivated attack from a Conservative Government. The contemporary footage reveals new suburban housing, cars on roads, but the fields, parks and beaches are deserted. There is no hum of activity. Sites that should represent community, such as Sunderland Football Club, (the site of Monkwearmouth Colliery from 1885-1993) are conspicuously empty. The pit head of the former Ryhope Colliery (1857-1966) is a now a grey scar nestling beside an ASDA supermarket. The inclusion of this store, right at the start of the film, is no accident. This grocery chain is owned by Walmart, a multi-national corporation synonymous with low wages, hostility to trade union membership, and the bankrupting of mom and pop stores. Quite the opposite of the nationally owned, community sustaining mining industry that it has replaced.

A crescendo is reached in the film’s final sequence, which sees the miners exchange their blackened work wear for their Sunday suits as they march through the crowded streets of Durham. Colliery brass bands lead the way and banners billow in the wind. When the marchers enter the crowded, yet hushed, splendor of Durham Cathedral, the camera is positioned high above, as if God himself was taking stock of all we have seen, and blessing the miners’ with his approval. Then again, it takes no imagination to view the scene as a funeral, for an industry, for a community, for a way of life.

The Miners’ Hymns is implanted so firmly into the soil of England, literally and metaphorically, that it comes as a shock that its creation is the product of a collaboration between an American filmmaker and an Icelandic composer. A testament to a way of life now almost gone, its ghosts remain with you long after the film ends.

London (Patrick Keiller, 1994)

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From the formal statues of its center to the supermarkets and bus stations at the outer reaches of the underground map, Patrick Keiller spent the year of 1992 training his camera, always static, on England’s capital. An architect turned filmmaker as flâneur, Keiller is keenly attuned to the fissures of history, whilst not immune to creating new mythologies. Throughout London, a playful sensibility meets sincere anger at the ravages inflicted on the city and its inhabitants through thirteen years of Tory rule.

The two protagonists of London remain unseen. Our narrator (Paul Scofield), a cruise ship photographer, is recalled to London following a seven year absence by his erstwhile lover Robinson, to join his “exercises in psychic landscaping, drifting, and free association.” Journeying by foot and by bus, the two delve into the “problem of London”, whilst searching for the roots of English romanticism. Robinson’s character is named for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, making the narrator his Man Friday, and the city itself an island. The exiled Russian socialist Alexander Herzen is quoted: “there is no town in the world which is more adapted for training one away from people and training one into solitude than London.” The narrator considers the city is “full of interesting people, most of whom, like Robinson, would rather be elsewhere.” On a series of walks across the capital, their meditation through literature, politics and the urban environment blurs the edges of narrative, documentary and essay filmmaking, making London an engaging cousin to the work of the Left bank directors, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and Agnes Varda.

Through image and narration, the past and present rub together, but this is to be no nostalgic expedition into the city of the popular imagination, as this observation by the narrator quickly confirms: “Robinson is no conservationist, but he misses the smell of cigarette ash and urine that used to linger in the neo-Georgian phone boxes that appear on London postcards.” His taste is for the uncelebrated corners of the metropolis, its street markets and shopping malls. Reflecting this, Brent Cross Shopping Center is the only location privileged with something approximating a tracking shot, thanks to the camera’s placement on an escalator.

On two occasions the couple cross paths with a pair of Peruvian musicians, successors perhaps to the foreign visitors of the past whose travels are alighted on: the aforementioned Herzon, the romantic interludes of Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Apollinaire. And Monet. Mischievously delaying a cut to the River Thames, Keiller discusses the view seen from his hotel window as the camera trains its attention on a huge billboard displaying a member of the male striptease troupe The Chippendales. Of such distant travelers to the city, the one perhaps most apposite to the project of London is Laurence Sterne, a regular visitor to the city following the success of Tristram Shandy in 1759. For Robinson, Sterne’s claim that “duration is the succession of ideas which follow and succeed each other in our minds like the images on the inside of a lantern turned round by the heat of a candle” marks him as the inventor of cinema. Tristram Shandy itself is a novel built on a series of comic digressions, much as the route of the flâneur consists of one digression after another.

London contains plenty of digressions, from an excursion to the trooping of the color ceremony that marks the Queen’s official birthday, to a lunch in IKEA. More seriously, the couple are repeatedly waylaid thanks to the regular planting of bombs by the Irish Republican Army. While the link isn’t made explicit, we are invited to consider the atrocities of the IRA next to the actions of the British State when couple witness the Queen Mother unveiling a statue commemorating Sir Arthur Harris. The statue today sits largely ignored in the Aldwych but, as documented in the film, it was highly controversial in 1992. ‘Bomber’ Harris was responsible for devastating attacks on German civilian centers, including Dresden, during World War Two, and protests against the monument came from both citizens of London and from German officials.

Contemporary politics give the film some of its most memorable monologues. The backdrop is an election year, the first after Margaret Thatcher’s resignation, and for Robinson, as for all of us living in London at that time, the stakes were high. He worries for his job, the libraries, public transport, and the city continuing without an elected local authority following Thatcher’s politically motivated abolition of the Greater London Authority. On election day itself, the couple observe a trio of confident young urban professionals exiting the polling station on Charing Cross Road, and late that night they stand out of place on the edge of Smith Square where re-elected Prime Minister John Major addresses the crowd. Robinson ruefully observes that “the middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because in their miserable hearts they still believed it was in their interest to do so,” before predicting a series of horrendous consequences leading to his early demise. “For the old or anyone with children it would be much worse,” he continues.

Keiller has directed two sequels to London. While Robinson in Space (1997) and Robinson in Ruins (2010) depart from the city to explore other parts of the country, twenty five years after Robinson and his Man Friday ventured across their island, I find myself wondering what a return to the capital might look like. Whilst I doubt Robinson would have admired New Labour (I have not seen Robinson in Ruins at the time of writing ), Blair did resolve two “problems of London,” reintroducing an elected body to the city and ushering in the Good Friday agreement, bringing an end to attacks by the IRA. Today, London faces a very different kind of terrorism. A fancy of Robinson’s, that the financial center of London might again become a destination for bohemians, was undoubtably unrealistic. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth, the well heeled City workers having now settled into the then affordable, artist filled neighborhoods of Stoke Newington, Hackney, and even King’s Cross. The last, highly insalubrious in 1992, was one to which I myself was making regular pilgrimages at the time, my nascent interest in cinema drawing me repeatedly to the still much missed Scala Cinema.

From the children playing in the street by their council estate to the Notting Hill Carnival, Patrick Keiller focuses on a London defined by its diversity. This is a city that welcomes millions of incomers every day, be they commuters from the suburbs or stray musicians from another continent. It is a city that has welcomed those, like Alexander Herzen, forced to flee their own country, whilst colorful figures such as Rimbaud and Verlaine, and so many names unknown, have added their own patchwork to the metropolis. Viewing the film today, one of Robinson’s most poignant laments regards the Londoner’s fear of Europe. Brexit, and the weakened Conservative government seeking to usher it in, would surely loom over a new version of London. Robinson might get cold comfort from the knowledge that the closed vision of Britain which narrowly won the referendum was roundly rejected by the inhabitants of its capital.

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