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Patrick Keiller
This renewal of strangeness characterises Keiller's approach to London and to England. Perhaps it accounts for why I've heard, 'I loved London' countless times from all sorts of people, people who are Londoners.

As I watched the film, however, I wondered at how such epistemic melancholia could have excited such a unified response. At Robinson's request, the narrator has just returned from a seven-year period away. The narrator (Paul Scofield) lays out a litany of London's crimes with classy neutrality. "It's so exotic," he concludes, while on the screen we see Tower Bridge and the tired old Thames, "so home-made."

Hollis Frampton said of nostalgia, "In Greek it means 'the wounds of returning'. Nostalgia is not an emotion that is entertained; it is sustained. When Ulysses comes home, nostalgia is the lumps he takes, not the tremulous pleasures he derives from being home again." Although this film navigates in and around London, it shares with such epics the sense of wounded return. In tone and form however, it's more like the bumblebee's faltering search for nectar, homing in, landing, divining, and moving on again.

Close-ups and pans, rapid montage, moving cameras, reversals, slow and fast motion; these trademarks once thought of as the truly cinematic have become merely second nature, for they mimic the way we see now. Today, novel cinematic perception lies in keeping still. London's shots are symmetrical and static, the camera doesn't move. The camera's stillness sets us free to wander about, we watch the world become animate. We can catch the current of a canal, the rhythm of the river, the stasis of architecture. Betraying an affinity for the surface of things, the shots are largely flat and tableau like, reserving dramatic depth of field for rare occasions. The images and their ambient sounds flow at an even, sober pace. The narrator talks, by turns, about Robinson and his views, refers to himself, relates historical connections to places, or simply quotes other writers all in the one well-mannered voice. There is no small measure of insouciance in this, for while it mocks Robinson's modernist romantic quest and belittles his urban flaneurie, the film is Robinson's space trip. Against the backdrop of Tory re-election and continual dismantling of civic structures, Robinson doggedly presses on with his project, 'the problem of London'. We delight in Robinson's melancholic meandering, for he finds his beloved crowds, his man of the crowd, even a perfect place to write poetry (were he a poet), and someone to talk to about Walter Benjamin in an indoors high-end shopping mall.

Each encounter along this journey partakes of the kind of stranger intimacy that constitutes the utopian side of urban life. It is this sort of cruising, this roving, un-tendered consciousness that constitutes modern eroticism. By developing an erotic perception of the city before us, by roaming about only to stay still, to see is, for a moment, to experience.

Still from London by Patrick Keiller, 1994
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