The Future of Landscape and the Moving Image

The Future of Landscape and the Moving Image is a research project that since March 2007 has explored received ideas about mobility, belonging and displacement, and their relationship with landscape and images of landscape, in a context of economic and environmental crisis. It is a collaboration between the artist Patrick Keiller, Doreen Massey, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the Open University and Patrick Wright, formerly Professor of Modern Cultural Studies at Nottingham Trent University, now Professor of Literature and Visual & Material Culture at King’s College London, and has been accompanied by Matthew Flintham’s related PhD project: Parallel Landscapes: A spatial and critical study of militarised sites in the United Kingdom. The project was supported by a three-year grant from the Landscape and Environment Programme of the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, and until January 2011 it was based at the Royal College of Art, London, where Keiller was a Research Fellow. Keiller is now a Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University.

The film Robinson in Ruins and Matthew Flintham’s thesis were completed in 2010. Doreen Massey’s Landscape/space/politics: an essay  was posted on this site in April 2011 and a revised version is now published in Atlas: Geography, Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World (Black Dog Publishing, 2012). Patrick Wright is writing a book provisionally entitled England’s Itch, a critique of past and present ideas of deep settlement and their engagement with landscape.

In July 2011, it was announced that Keiller would undertake the Tate Britain Commission 2012 to prepare a work subsequently entitled The Robinson Institute, which was exhibited in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain between 27 March and 14 October 2012. An illustrated book The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet (Tate Publishing, 2012) accompanied the exhibition.

The co-researchers have continued their collaboration in presentations to university and other interested audiences, with events so far at the Royal College of Art, Royal Holloway University of London, Aberystwyth University, Swansea University, the Open University, the University of Glasgow and the University of Nottingham.

Robinson in Ruins is narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, and is the document of a journey made in southern England during 2008, supposedly by a fictional character, Robinson, who featured in two films made by Keiller in the 1990s. It is available for theatrical and other exhibition, distributed by the British Film Institute. Its first public screenings were in the 67th Venice Film Festival on 4 & 5 September 2010, and it has since been exhibited in festivals in New York, Vancouver, London, Vienna, Dublin, Rotterdam, Pamplona, Paris, Buenos Aires, Seoul and Lisbon. Its first UK public screenings were in the London Film Festival on 19 & 21 October 2010; it was released in the UK on 19 November, with first runs at BFI Southbank and the Curzon Renoir in London, and subsequent screenings in London and other UK towns and cities. The film’s trailer is here. A Blu-ray/DVD edition was released on 20 June 2011, with an accompanying booklet including an abridgement of Professor Massey’s essay, and the entire essay is included as a pdf file on the DVD. 

There is an article about the film by Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? in the November 2010 issue of the magazine Sight and Sound (pp. 22-24) also here; Andrew Stevens’s interviews with Patrick Keiller, Doreen Massey and Patrick Wright for the website 3:AM are here, and a feature article by Brian Dillon in 20 November’s Guardian Review is here.

In a panel discussion, also on 20 November, chaired by Chris Darke after a screening of the film in NFT1 at BFI Southbank, the four co-researchers presented their project as a political intervention, documented here.

In April 2010, Keiller wrote a contribution to the RCA’s Research Review which included the following paragraphs, appended here as an update to the posts of June 2009 and June 2008:

The project set out to investigate received ideas about belonging and other, related subjects, by exploring part of a familiar though not always sympathetically viewed landscape – the southern English ‘countryside’ – equipped with a 35mm cine camera.

It was prompted by what appeared to be a discrepancy between, on one hand, the cultural and critical attention devoted to experience of mobility and displacement and, on the other, a tacit but seemingly widespread tendency to hold on to formulations of dwelling that derive from a more settled, agricultural past. While the former was extensive, it often seemed to involve regret for the loss or impossibility of the latter, and hence to reinforce, rather than rethink, some easily questionable ideas.

It was conceived as a successor to an earlier project for a similarly exploratory film, Robinson in Space (1997), and a book of the same name (1999), which had managed to dispel an initial, fairly widespread perception of the UK’s material economy, and the supposed decline of its manufacturing sector, in favour of a more accurate understanding. This outcome, it seemed to me (and, more importantly, to others), had confirmed the validity of such a mode of film-making as research.

In proposing the current project, I referred to the identification of so-called Anglo-Saxon capitalist economies with a degree of cosmopolitanism exemplified by the cultural diversity of the cities of globalised finance, particularly London and New York. This, and an older association of laissez-faire with mobility – the idea that the possibility for industrial capitalism to develop first in England derived partly from the relative freedom of movement of the pre-industrial population – suggested that an exploration of English landscapes might discover something with significance beyond England.

I began the project’s cinematography in early 2008. The first camera subject was an unusually robust structure of plywood and scaffolding that had been erected around an empty Victorian gothic house, following an unsuccessful planning application to demolish and replace it. After several years, I was finally alerted to its photogenic potential when I noticed that it might offer an image to accompany a quotation from Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia: in a passage ‘Refuge for the Homeless’ (1944), Adorno writes that ‘dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible’.(1) The footage was photographed on 22 January, the day after the first of many global stock market crashes during 2008. In the end, Adorno’s words were not included in the film, and in what might have been their place is a well-known passage from Fredric Jameson’s The Seeds of Time (1996): ‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.'(2) The cinematography progressed, its subjects following, one from another, in a similarly discursive manner, so as to represent a journey by a wandering, cracked scholar.

During 2007 and early 2008, I had encountered media references to the economic historian Karl Polanyi, whose book The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1944), a response to the Great Depression, locates the origins of twentieth-century catastrophe in the development of market society in England. Polanyi accorded great significance to the Speenhamland System of poor relief, famously inaugurated by the Berkshire magistrates in a meeting at the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland on 6 May 1795. 1795 was also the year in which the 1662 Settlement Act was amended to enable ‘hands to go where burgeoning capitalist enterprise needed them most’ – to migrate to factory towns – and it seems that Speenhamland was partly an attempt to counter this. Polanyi argued, hence, that the freedom of movement conventionally identified with laissez-faire was rather the intended result of legislation, while Speenhamland was society’s spontaneous attempt to protect the agricultural workforce from the disasters that accompanied imposition of a labour market. All this suggested a visit to the Pelican Inn, which survives as an anonymous, empty, listed building, formerly a bank, having ceased to be a coaching inn in the 1850s. Speenhamland is a part of central Newbury.

The film, now entitled Robinson in Ruins, is a more or less circular journey through landscapes, mostly in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, encountering the above and other similarly overlooked locations. Among these are places that demonstrate the past and continuing presence of the United States military and the hiving off of strategic public-sector assets to private-sector, often US/UK-owned, consortia, and sites of agrarian rebellion at various times since the sixteenth century, typically responses to land enclosure exacerbated by the failure of successive harvests, all of which combine to suggest that the project’s initial question about belonging to a landscape might be set aside in favour of one that asks instead to whom the landscape, and by extension, the state, effectively belongs. While the camera visits the scenes of historical events, Vanessa Redgrave’s accompanying narration includes references to off-screen events such as the war in Afghanistan, the deepening economic crisis and the government’s rediscovery of manufacturing industry, as well as general subjects including food and energy security, climate change and mass-extinction. Despite all these, the film manages to reach an optimistic conclusion.

PK 17 April 10


1. Theodor Adorno, ‘Refuge for the Homeless’, in Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 2005) p.38.

2. Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p.xi.

*

In January 2009, Keiller wrote an article for Cultural Geographies 16(3), details here. The following paragraphs, updating the earlier post of 28 June 2008 (below) are based on some of this:

At the beginning of the project, we had explored the mythology of Anglo-American capitalism, particularly the idea that freedom of movement was a factor in the early development of industrial capitalism in England. It had turned out, however, that such internal mobility was not some long-established structural characteristic, but the intended result of legislation.(1) As the project progressed, similar preconceptions were disposed of. It had already become clear that neoliberalism was, in the end, not particularly neoliberal; as Doreen Massey had pointed out, quoting David Harvey: ‘The contradictions are endless: “The two economic engines that have powered the world through the global recession that set in after 2001 have been the United States and China. The irony is that both have been behaving like Keynesian states in a world supposedly governed by neoliberal rules.”’(2)

Pursuing the question of why capitalism first took off in England,(3) I encountered references to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation,(4) published in 1944 and conceived as a response to the Great Depression and the rise of fascism, in which Polanyi set out to describe the transformation from feudalism to capitalism, giving particular attention to the enclosure process in England and the development of the economic system at the beginning of the 19th century. During 2008, Polanyi’s book, for long ignored or derided by economists, was mentioned with increasing frequency by broadsheet and other commentators(5) as a useful companion to the crisis that was unfolding perhaps more rapidly than had been anticipated even by those who had long predicted it.

Arguing that laissez-faire was no such thing, but rather the intended result of political decisions, Polanyi accorded great significance to the Speenhamland system of poor relief devised by the Berkshire magistrates, who met at the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland on 6 May 1795, to alleviate distress caused by a rise in the price of grain following poor harvests and counter the increased labour mobility legislated for in the same year.

Speenhamland is a part of Newbury, and the Pelican, or the George and Pelican, as it was in 1795, was a large coaching inn at the junction of what was then the road from London to Bath, which became the A4, and the north end of what is now Newbury’s main street. It ceased to be an inn in about 1850, the coaching trade having declined after the opening of the railway through Newbury in 1847. In 2008, it was an empty, Grade II listed building, formerly an office and, between 1900 and 1983, a bank. With all this in mind, I decided to make the Pelican the first destination for the project’s wandering cinematography.(6)

By the end of November 2008, I had accumulated about 4½ hours of 35mm negative, stopping when I arrived at a ruin which suggested a plausible ending for a narrative and another allusion to The Great Transformation. Themes that emerged during the cinematography include oil, nuclear weapons, space exploration and, perhaps unsurprisingly, agriculture; I had been particularly keen to make some footage of the wheat harvest, which was slow, late and damp, continuing until the end of September, in the context of a high, if volatile, price inflated by increased demand and speculation in international markets. I had not worked with a ciné camera since photographing Robinson in Space in 1995, and to begin with found it quite difficult to identify camera subjects, wary of producing footage that too closely resembled that of the earlier film. While the latter’s subject had suggested many locations, most of them fairly easy to get a picture out of, the present project’s theme was much less obviously imageable. I recalled a sentence in the introduction to Fredric Jameson’s The Seeds of Time: ‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.’(7) The most successful camera subjects seemed to offer the possibility of overcoming this weakness, either as clues to how the present, unsustainable economic reality had developed, or by suggesting alternatives,(8) however unlikely. I noticed that many of what I considered successful images were of signs, markers, routes or views from high viewpoints, as if they might amount to a non-sedentary perception.

Compared with videotape, film stock is expensive to purchase and process, and the camera’s magazine holds only 122m of stock, just over 4 minutes at 25fps. Film hence tends to involve a greater commitment to an image before starting to turn the camera, and there is pressure to stop as soon as possible, both to limit expenditure and to avoid running out of loaded film. Results are visible only after processing, which, in this case, was usually several days later, by which time some subjects were no longer available and others had changed, so as to rule out the possibility of a retake. I began to wonder why I had never noticed these difficulties before, or whether I had simply forgotten them. Another problem was that, with computer editing, it is no longer usual to make a print to edit. Instead, camera rolls are transferred to video after processing, so that the footage is never seen at its best until the end of the production process. This hybridity of photographic and digital media so emphasises the value of the material, mineral characteristics of film that one begins to reimagine cinematography as a variety of stone-carving.

One of the aims of the project is to investigate the significance of the spatial qualities of landscape photography and cinematography, as I have never encountered much written or other enquiry as to why illusory three-dimensionality might be valued to the extent that it seems to be. I had embarked on landscape film-making in 1981, early in the Thatcher era, after encountering a surrealist tradition in the UK and elsewhere, so that cinematography involved the pursuit of a transformation, radical or otherwise, of everyday reality.(9) I recently came across a description, in Kitty Hauser’s Bloody Old Britain, of O G S Crawford’s photography: ‘Like photographers of the New Objectivity, clarity was his goal. Like them, he favoured stark contrasts, with no blurring or mistiness. His focus, like theirs, was on the object or the scene in front of him, which it was his aim to illuminate as clearly as he could. [. . .] It was commitment that lit up his photographs [. . .] Such photographs suggest a love of the world that was almost mystical in its intensity.’(10) I had forgotten that landscape photography is often motivated by utopian or ideological imperatives, both as a critique of the world, and to demonstrate the possibility of creating a better one.

PK 19 March 2009


1. See the previous 28 June 08 post, below.

2. Doreen Massey, World City (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), p.213; David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p.152.

3. ‘Sweezy reminds us that capitalism failed to catch on in a number of places before it finally arrived in England; and that if actually existing socialisms go down the drain, there will be other, better ones later on.’ Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1991), p.264; for the Dobb-Sweezy debate, see Rodney Hilton (ed.), The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1976).

4. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston MA: Beacon Press, 2002).

5. See, for example, ‘Faith. Belief. Trust. This economic orthodoxy was built on superstition’, Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, 6 October 2008, p.31.

6. Only a few of the locations reconnoitred in 2007 (see ‘Notes’ 1, 2 & 3, linked above) were visited for the film. The rate of progress was slower and the distance covered less than for earlier films. This seemed consistent with the current project’s objectives, making it easier to spend more time at individual locations, and to make more than one visit. Among camera subjects are, to the north, Launton, near Bicester, the site of a meteorite fall in 1830, and the former Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott; to the west, RAF Brize Norton; to the south, Henry ‘Hangman’ Hawley’s house at West Green, Hampshire and, to the east, the disused chalk quarry of a former cement works at Chinnor.

7. Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p.xi.

8. Which might involve hopes for a sustainable energy supply; national self-sufficiency in agriculture; a revival of manufacturing industry; a radical reform of the design and construction of dwellings and settlements, including the gradual replacement of much of the existing built environment; a radical reconfiguration of humanity’s relationship with the rest of the biosphere; novel political forms to bring all this about, etc.

9. See, for example Ian Walker, So Exotic, So Homemade: Surrealism, Englishness and Documentary Photography (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp.160-186.

10. Kitty Hauser, Bloody Old Britain: O.G.S. Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life (London: Granta, 2008), pp.143-144; 146; 147.

*

28 June 2008

The project began on 19 March 2007 and in this, its second year, Keiller is undertaking the cinematography for a feature-length film, one of the three works that the project will produce. Patrick Wright is preparing a monograph, a critique of past and present ideas of deep settlement and their engagement with landscape, and Doreen Massey will produce an essay in which she will explore the nature of place, arguing for an understanding of place as event, in interaction with the film, its subjects and the process of its production.

The co-researchers have developed a dialogue which these pages aim to document. The following paragraphs summarise some of this:

The project began by asking ‘is there a discrepancy between the value ascribed, increasingly, to the idea of belonging to or being rooted in a place (all the more when this is absent, in situations of exile or loss) and our common experience as more or less displaced people?’ This question was prompted by an increased concern with ‘belonging’ and, specifically, national identity, that appears to have arisen in the UK in recent years, and by the thought that this was a question that could be addressed by making images of landscape, given a longstanding intention to develop the research method established in making the 35mm feature-length ‘essay’ films London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997).

Both these films were made with footage accumulated over relatively long periods, each in pursuit of a possibly misconceived ‘problem’ introduced as the subject of research by an unseen fictional character. The footage was edited and the resulting assembly became the basis for narration in which the ‘problem’ was reconsidered. In Robinson in Space, I had quoted a passage from Doreen Massey’s essay ‘A Place Called Home’ (1); the film was later extended as a book including a conversation with Patrick Wright (2), and Doreen had since appeared in another film of mine, (3) so that our collaborations were to some extent already established.

London was an attempt to explore and, in its protagonist’s terms, overcome the ‘problem of London’. The problem seemed to be, essentially, that Londoners then suffered (as they perhaps still suffer) because London was (as it still is) unlike the model of a European city promoted in architectural discourse and elsewhere during the 1980s and early 1990s (notably, perhaps, by Richard, now Lord Rogers).

In Robinson in Space, the subject was the ‘problem of England’, again not explicitly stated, but implied by the mention of ‘a particularly English kind of capitalism’ and images of Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, manufacturing industry, shopping malls, ports and other typical subjects of a then-familiar declinist critique which saw the UK’s supposed economic weakness as the result of long-term historical traits, particularly the incompleteness of England’s bourgeois revolution in the seventeenth century. Again, the implied comparison was with more successful economies elsewhere in western Europe.

The process of making the film revealed instead a recently constructed landscape characteristic of the mid-1990s, in which spatial manifestations of the global consumer economy – automated factories, computerised distribution warehouses, container ports and so on – as well as other novelties such as US-owned private-sector prisons, had become visible. While perhaps not very pleasant to live with, the UK’s economy was certainly not declining (4), and was in its own terms arguably more ‘successful’ than those of some of its more social-democratic neighbours, as was emphasised by both Conservative and Labour governments during the years that followed.

The claim that making such a film can constitute research rests on this realisation, which was arrived at by making the journeys and the footage of which the film consists, as well as on the way that the film has been received in academic and other research communities during the years since it was first exhibited.

The previous film, London, had asked whether London’s celebrated diversity could be related to its perceived lack of civic space and ‘absence of Continental diversions’ (5), which might make it easier for incoming cultures to establish themselves there than in a more conventionally architectural city. Otherwise, it retained its critique of London’s physical shortcomings throughout, and while this may have tried the patience of some viewers, the film seemed to achieve a degree of reconciliation through the mere activity of making images of the city, which to some extent set aside the fictional protagonist’s ‘problem’.

The present project originated as a proposal for a sequel to Robinson in Space, first conceived as long ago as 1997, just before the sudden disappearance of the possibility of realising such works in television or as public-sector ‘cultural’ film (6). With the project’s subsequent reconfigurations, most recently as collaborative research in an academic context, as well as technological and other changes during the intervening period and my own thoughts about the research method, it seems unlikely that its outcome will resemble the earlier films very closely, but it retains their method of making and interrogating images as a way of making a study of a ‘problem’. This ‘problem’, as set out in the question above, is the persistence of an arguably unattainable idea of dwelling, as can be found expressed, famously, by Martin Heidegger:

‘Let us think for a while of a farmhouse in the Black Forest, which was built some two hundred years ago by the dwelling of peasants. Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals enter in simple oneness into things, ordered the house.’ (7)

It is not difficult to dissent from ‘simple oneness’, but other images of a peasant life now lost, as in, for example, Henri Lefebvre’s ‘Notes Written One Sunday in the French Countryside’ (8) (in 1945) are surprisingly widespread, and even Adorno, writing (in 1944) that ‘dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible’ (9) might have had in mind a dwelling that, if it had been possible, would perhaps not have been so unlike that found in such imagined worlds, untroubled by capitalist displacement.

In this project, while the research method involves making images of the UK’s landscape, the peculiarities of England and/or the United Kingdom are not so central as they were for the previous films. On the other hand, the tendency to portray the UK as a successfully heterogeneous society (even if only in relative terms), and the idea that there is some historical characteristic that explains the UK’s role in the development of the present-day world economy, has led me to consider the history and meanings of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon capitalism’.

So far, it appears that what distinguishes England in the pre-capitalist period is not so much the ‘freedom’ claimed in myths found on both sides of the Atlantic, but its erosion by the early development of a strong central state, even before the Norman invasion (10). If, in the recent past, there has been a tendency to characterise England in terms of a heterogeneity, consistent with a tradition of freedom of movement and the image of the cosmopolitan capitalist, and with globalisation, this perhaps risks underestimating the role of the state in creating the conditions for the development of a particular economic reality. Internal mobility, for example, seems to have been greater in the UK than in other parts of Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and this is suggested as one of the reasons why it was possible for industrial capitalism to develop here earlier. This internal mobility was not, however, some long-established structural characteristic, but the intended result of legislation: the partial repeal of the Settlement Act in 1795 ‘in the interest of freeing hands to go where burgeoning capitalist enterprise needed them most’ (11). The 1662 Act’s system of poor relief had previously effected to tie the poor to their official parishes of settlement, ‘the transition from private to state control on movement [having been] an essential part of the transition from feudalism to capitalism’ (12). This realisation has informed the selection of the film’s camera subjects, and its itinerary, in various ways.

In responding to a discussion document in which I had wondered about the reality of ‘our common experience as more or less displaced people’, alleged in the project proposal (as above), Doreen Massey suggested that, rather than debating this, or whether, if real, such common experience offers any basis for a commonality, perhaps the project could attempt to dispose of this idea of ‘displacement’ in the way that Robinson in Space had managed to dispose of ‘decline’. One of the reasons that I asked Doreen to become involved with the project was that she had alerted me to Bruno Latour, who writes that ‘Heidegger is taken in [. . .] since he and his epigones do not expect to find Being except along the Black Forest Holzwege’, and ‘Has someone, however, actually forgotten Being? Yes: anyone who really thinks that Being has really been forgotten’ (13). Latour’s hybrids, his reading of Shapin and Schaffer’s Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton, 1985), and his ‘Cultures – different or universal – do not exist, any more than Nature does. There are only natures-cultures . . .’ (14) have also influenced the choice of camera subjects.

Since beginning the cinematography for the project just over two months ago, I have been facing the consequences of decisions about how to originate the material. After considerable enquiry and reflection, I decided to originate the picture, as before, as 35mm negative, despite the difficulties and uncertainties that this involves. This was both to maximise image definition, and because electronic image formats are so prone to rapid obsolescence. If one originates footage as 35mm negative, although it will probably be exhibited mainly or even solely in electronic forms, one can be confident that the material will survive the disappearance of successive electronic formats. Film also offers a materiality which electronic images lack. There is a mineral quality to the emulsion of photographic film which can engage with the materiality of landscape in a way that is, I think, worth retaining. I may also include some material made with a small-format high-definition digital video (HDV) camera and a digital SLR still camera, either as part of the film itself, or in some digital assembly, in the manner of ‘extras’ on a DVD.

We have recently been discussing how views of landscape, and images of it in cinema and elsewhere, seem to achieve a ‘smoothing’, a kind of reconciliation of discontinuities, or an ironing out of heterogeneity (15). I had wondered if one of the attractions of film space was that it offered illusory homogeneities, temporal and otherwise, suggesting that this was particularly true of films from the past, such as those made with monochrome or highly-saturated colour images (such as 3-strip Technicolor) (16). Patrick Wright connected this with Ernst Bloch’s insistence that attention should be paid to the non-synchronous (being everything left over from older ways of life), to a differentiation proposed by Raymond Williams in defining reality as consisting of residual, dominant and emergent cultures, and to ideas about different regimes of historicity. Doreen then raised the problems associated with convening spatial difference into temporal sequence. In a recent essay, I quoted Henri Lefebvre’s observation that ‘the space which contains the realized preconditions of another life is the same one as prohibits what those preconditions make possible’ (17). Perhaps, in films, this prohibition can be suspended, so that they sometimes suggest the possibility of a reconciliation unattainable in actual everyday surroundings. Perhaps this is something to look into, and to be wary of. What seem to me, so far, to be successful images are often views of subjects that initially appear rather conventional but turn out to be slightly disconcerting (the subjects and also, hopefully, the images) so that although they may initially appear reconciled, they are revealed as otherwise. The starting point currently envisaged for the film is an image of an unusual house encased in a structure of plywood hoardings and scaffolding, in which a narrator will allege that someone recently released from incarceration is living without much knowledge of how he or she came to be there.

PK 4 June 2008


1. In Space, Place and Gender (Cambridge, 1994)

2. Robinson in Space (London, 1999) p.113; pp.223-235.

3. The Dilapidated Dwelling (78mins, 2000).

4. In 1997 (when the film was released), the UK even achieved an export surplus, the first since 1985 (the UK’s last sustained period of trade surpluses was 1977-83, with a small deficit in 1984), and although under Labour deficits returned and have since grown to 2007’s record £51bn, the UK is currently the world’s sixth largest manufacturing economy, behind the US, Japan, China and Germany, and about equal with France. Among the UK’s manufacturing strengths are steel, motor vehicles, high-value engineering, electronics, pharmaceuticals, weapons and aerospace technologies, biotech and food. The value of manufactured exports is double that of exports of services, including financial services.

5. Alexander Herzen, Ends and Beginnings (Oxford, 1985) p.431.

6. London had been commissioned by the BFI with subvention from Channel Four and Robinson in Space was a commission for BBC2 from the Corporation’s drama department. The BBC at first invited a proposal for a sequel, but the invitation was withdrawn later in 1997, following a change of personnel.

7. Martin Heidegger, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ in Poetry, Language, Thought (New York, 1975) pp.145-161 (emphasis as published).

8. Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life Volume 1, (London, 1991) pp.201-227.

9. Theodor Adorno, ‘Refuge for the Homeless’, in Minima Moralia (London, 2005) p.38.

10. See, for instance, Chris Wickham, who in Framing the Early Middle Ages (Oxford, 2005) writes that by the tenth century ‘one can begin to talk about the English “nation state” which has survived ever since’ (p.49).

11. John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State (Cambridge, 1999) p.67.

12. ibid., p.20.

13. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge MA, 1993) p.65; p.66, which continues: ‘Those who have failed to undertake empirical studies of sciences, technologies, law, politics, economics, religion or fiction have lost the traces of Being that are distributed everywhere among beings. If, scorning empiricism, you opt out of the exact sciences, then the human sciences, then traditional philosophy, then the sciences of language, and you hunker down in your forest – then you will indeed feel a tragic loss. But what is missing is you yourself, not the world! Heidegger’s epigones have converted that glaring weakness into a strength. “We don’t know anything empirical, but that doesn’t matter, since your world is empty of Being. We are keeping the little flame of Being safe from everything, and you, who have all the rest, have nothing.” On the contrary: we have everything, since we have Being, and beings, and we have never lost track of the difference between Being and beings.’

14. Ibid., p.104.

15. In August 2007, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Iain Sinclair referred to the ‘current glut of geography and history lessons on television’. I counted ten fairly recent or then-current television series that were either about, or consisted largely of images of, landscape. These were Map Man (2 series), Coast (2 series), A Picture of Britain, How We Built Britain, A History of Modern Britain, Great British Journeys, B-road Britain, Britain’s Favourite View, Mountain and The Nature of Britain. In ITV’s Britain’s Favourite View, presented by Sir Trevor McDonald, a selection of celebrities argued the case for their favourite place (not always a ‘view’, which disadvantaged some contestants). Britain’s favourite view, as voted by the series’ viewers, was east along Wastwater (also seen in an image in the closing moments of Robinson in Space). What, I wondered, did this sudden mainstream interest represent, and how could the current project respond to it?

16. See, for example, Humphrey Jennings’s Listen to Britain (1942) and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), two significant British films made during World War 2.

17. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford, 1991) pp.189-190. The essay is ‘Film as Spatial Critique’, in Critical Architecture, eds. Jane Rendell, Jonathan Hill, Mark Dorrian and Murray Fraser (London, New York, 2007) pp.115-123.

2 Responses to “The Future of Landscape and the Moving Image”


  1. 1 David Thomas March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Sitting here reading your excellent blog while drinking Robinsons orange barley water (honestly, I am and quite by chance) and wishing that Robinson in Ruins were to be screened up near us (Bradford). Have recently watched Robinson in Space which was fantastic but realised how much better it would be to see it on screen. Any chance?

  2. 2 David McMullen August 15, 2010 at 1:22 am

    There’s hope for the end of the Darkling Age when the path to the future was unseen from the road of the past and smug cynicism spun a hopeless uncertainty around every clouded short term vision free anodyne. Congratulations on your grand crusade.


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