Patrick Keiller’s Berkshire tour narrates a very recent era of history, writes James Pallister
It takes a little while to relax into Patrick Keiller’s latest film. The cinematography is beautiful, in an English, unspectacular way, but with the knowledge that a 90-minute film is on the cards, a trickle of shots lasting between 10 and 40 seconds a piece can seem, well, a little… slow.
It’s the latest outing for director Patrick Keiller’s mysterious (and unseen) researcher-protagonist, Robinson. Over the last two decades Keiller has been one of the people – alongside the likes of Iain Sinclair, Will Self and Peter Ackroyd – who’ve helped make psychogeography popular once again; that hazy and indeterminate practice of walking, reading and writing, beloved of architects, geographers and Sunday strollers alike.
In his new outing, Robinson leaves the urban settings of previous films London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997) on a loop around the Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside. Keiller began filming on 22 January 2008, the day after the first of many global stock-market crashes and the voiceover records the crises – financial and political – of that era. We see a Royal Bank of Scotland-funded millennium bicycle route post; RAF Brise Norton airfield; a sunny meadow, the site, the narrator tells us, where UN weapons-inspector David Kelly’s body was found.
Later there’s Greenham Common, the benign-looking weapons silos like turfed Mayan temples, formerly home to 96 ground launched missiles. Layers of history are kaleidoscoped through close geographic proximity and seeming non sequiturs of precisely detailed historical events and shots of countryside. All these somehow gel to make a compelling narrative. More unnerving is the way the film’s prosaic imagery and matter-of-fact narrative gives the giddy and uncanny feeling of experiencing events, though still fresh in the mind, as history for the first time.