ROBINSON IN RUINS BY PATRICK KEILLER

This entry was posted on November 28th, 2014

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By Tara Judah

Contemporary issues like the global financial crisis and climate change have begged for another round of Robinson’s sleuthing; another essay articulate beyond its years from his companion, our narrator. Something to unpack as the next decade tattoos itself onto the landscape.

But Robinson is defeated.

A few years ago, while dismantling a derelict caravan in the corner of a field, a recycling worker found a box containing 19 film cans and a notebook.

Robinson no longer exists. Our narrator (Paul Scofield) has also passed. Our new narrator (Vanessa Redgrave) refers to the voice we once knew as her partner – though it seems as though she is unaware of any pre-existing sexual encounter between him and Robinson. This film is the postmodern deconstruction of its two younger siblings. We know immediately that the female narrator we now have is estranged from the findings of the previous two films – she knew both Robinson and his companion, but there were secrets. Much like the city and the nation we have seen so far, hidden realities are sewn into the fabric of subjective truth.

Robinson’s fieldwork and Scofield’s narration is, now, called into question. Time becomes just another lens through which to view their findings, but, now that they are so firmly situated within the historical context of ‘the past’, they are subject to scrutiny, perhaps even dismissal.

This device allows  Patrick Keiller to account for any erroneous claims – London is still an economic centre of the world, despite foretold decline and the Global Financial Crisis. It also situates the methodology of the filmmaking and historical documentation in the past. The image as historical document must be viewed with scepticism: it is unreliable. But what if the images were found, rather than created? The notion of “found” footage gives us something that the first two films did not – primary and secondary sources of evidence. What Robinson filmed and notated still serves as our primary source of evidence, a constant. But where Scofield’s narration was a primary interpretation and accompaniment to that source material, Redgrave’s words have the benefit and privilege of hindsight. The addition of time allows Redgrave to credit or discredit Robinson’s findings as she sees fit. That is to say that it gives Keiller the opportunity to dismantle his earlier work and reassemble it with the kind of intellectual layering that his films themselves interrogate.

This third film is also far more contemplative. It looks carefully – and closely – at everything; the markers for government pipelines, butterflies and flowers that will become lost forever in the impending ecological collapse, the royal mail post box that will be painted over until the original is indeterminable, and the lichen that will outlive it all. These are all captured on photographic film and film is favoured over the digital medium by Robinson (and Keiller) as historical artefact.

Keiller’s trilogy interrogates itself, but also leaves itself open to future sleuthing. It is, in its own devastating, speculative and total beauty, after all, the findings of a spectre.