Robinson in Ruins Gathers Moss

01/04/2012 4:00 AM |

Robinson in Ruins

Directed by Patrick Keiller

Robinson in Ruins, British filmmaker Patrick Keiller’s third essay to concern the psychogeographic field notes of the peripatetic philosopher-cinematographer Robinson, is framed as an act of salvage: It consists entirely of fixed-camera landscape footage shot, according to the script, by the fictional character of the title; Vanessa Redgrave’s fellow traveler reads, in voiceover, from the notebook he left alongside the film canisters near a former paper mill.

Ruins is a film that proceeds, as if through a slide carousel, more rapidly than it can be processed. Redgrave reels off an overwhelming amount of free-associative economic, historical, and cultural information that often creates crucial dissonances with the rural Britain seen on-screen. In addition to more picturesque spots, Keiller trains on fields, quarries, depots, and bases—many of which have been sold (profitably) to other nations, and many of which have been deemed of “special scientific interest.” The narrator relates Robinson’s hope to establish an “experimental settlement” in such an area, not far from the site of an attempted 16th-century enclosure riot. The film’s very form affirms the value of such acts of reclamation.

And then there is that which must continually be propped up. Ruins periodically returns to view the progress on a neo-Gothic house buttressed by scaffolding—Robinson is said to have “haunted” the structure, but to have found its perpetual maintenance senseless; it’s hard to avoid recalling the facade as Redgrave reports on the unfolding global financial crisis (the film was shot in 2008), though the most extended account of the bailout action accompanies a shot of a spider spinning its web in close-up.

Keiller’s juxtapositions can sometimes seem willfully arbitrary, but many of the stops along Robinson’s route portend collapse with a stunning matter-of-factness. Traversing a swath of English countryside where a meteorite fell to earth in 1830, Robinson finds not a monument commemorating the impact, but rather a lonely mile post for a bike race sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland; later we return to lichen overtaking the honeycombed surface of a reflective highway sign.

January 12-18 at Anthology Film Archives