Critique – ‘Robinson in Space’ (1996, Patrick Keiller)

‘Robinson in Space’ follows a format established by director Patrick Keiller in ‘London’ (1994) and also in earlier shorter works. On the surface, the film comprises of a pastiche of short static shots taken across the UK (mainly England) accompanied by the words of an unseen narrator (Paul Scofield) who is Robinson’s traveling companion. The fictional story is used as a vehicle to deliver an almost ‘state of the nation’ type cultural and economic synopsis of modern Britain which includes statistics such as import/export figures per port. The narrative (entirely written by Keiller) merrily skips between fact and fiction with reference to events that take place in works of literature that share the locations featured in the film. In this way many more terms of reference are introduced than would be possible with the format of a straight economic/cultural essay (which the film mimics). Alongside writers Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, Keiller has taken his place in the development of a very British form of Pyschogeography that has flowered since the 90’s. In interview with Andrew Stevens of 3am magazine (July 14th, 2010), Keiller acknowledges this development although shuns the actual term ‘psychogeography’. Of the film, he says

Robinson set out with the idea that the UK is a backward, failing capitalism, because it has never had a bourgeois revolution (the ‘Nairn-Anderson thesis’, also alluded to in London), but by the end of the cinematography this had given way to one in which the familiar (and enduring) manifestations of the ‘problem of England’ are revealed as symptoms, not of failure, but of neoliberalism’s success. The UK’s economy may have been unpleasant to live with, but its unpleasantness was not the result of failure.

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