Robinson in Space

by Chris Bertram on July 21, 2007

Many years ago … it must have been ten years, I watched “Patrick Keiller”: ‘s pseudo-documentary “Robinson in Space”: on TV. It stayed with me, though, frustratingly, I forgot the title and therefore from time to time rummaged around my collection of old videotapes trying to find “that film”. The other day I was visiting my son and it turned out that his flatmate had the DVD of Robinson together with its precursor “London”: (in “a set issued by the BFI”: ) , so I borrowed them and watched again. They are curious works: very quiet and somewhat mannered. Against a backdrop of national decline (how the Zeitgeist — though not the reality — has changed in ten years!) Charged with investigating the “Problem of England”, Robinson and his companion (the narrator) tour a combination of literary sites, docks, prisons and so forth whilst the viewer is treated to a deadpan recitation of facts about history, politics, import-export statistics and other trivia — including that England is the leading producer of rubber sheeting of the type necessary for S&M orgies. (The quietness combined with the sequence of images and literary allusions has a slightly Sebaldesque flavour.) The journey (or journeys) supposedly retrace the steps of Daniel Defoe’s _Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain_ .Keiller depicts a land without public space or political virtue but one where beauty and morality take second place to turning a profit. Recommended.