Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Robinson in Space

I did not get to see Robinson in Ruins at the New York Film Festival, however I did pick up the earlier films in the series London and this one Robinson in Space.

Robinson in Space is a cinematic essay by Patrick Keiller. It consists of mostly static shots of locations around England while Paul Scofield, narrates the tale of Robinson being hired by an advertising firm to solve "the English problem". What that is is never completely explained but it allows for a discussion of people and places around England and about Robinson, who is a kind of stand in for the director.

Similar to some of the short work of Peter Greenaway (as well as his epic film The Falls), the work of Chris Marker (Sans Soleil), some of the films of Werner Herzog (Wild Blue Yonder) and films like Time and Tide this is part documentary part essay part fiction film that some people are going to love and some people are going to hate.

For some people the problem with this film is going to be that it's little more than a moving slide show with narration. The images are suppose to interact with the narration to form a new story. When it works say Greenaway's Walk Thru H or Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder you come to believe that what you're seeing is real (In the case of Walk Thru H that what you seeing are really maps and in the Yonder that the shots under the ice are an alien world).

For me the film mostly works. Its an intriguing tour of England both past and present that mixes together that forms a travelogue unlike almost anything else out there. For the films 80 minute or so running time I got lost in this tale of England that was trying to get a handle on this unnamed "problem".

To be honest I love this sort of film. Actually I love anything that makes us see things in a new way. The great comedian Jackie Vernon does a bit which is one of the most ingenious bits of theater I've ever seen. Standing by a wall he has a spot light shine on the wall next to him. As he clicks a clicker the light flashes like a slide projector. Vernon then tells us all about his family. Vernon speaks a line and we fill in the images. As the bit goes on and we get more and more sucked in the laughs get bigger since we've created this wonderful world that doesn't exist. It's something that Vernon reminds us of at the very of the piece to usual gales of laughter.

While Robinson in Space never reaches the heights of Jackie Vernon's piece, nor of some of the other films in the narrow genre, it is a very good film. I do recommend it but before you pick it up, do consider if you're going to like the film. I mean its all talk and very little motion.

One review of Robinson in Ruins which follows this film, called it part of a genre that is best suited to film festivals and a small audience that likes this sort of things. I like this sort of thing when done right so I liked this film.

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