Movies: Robinson in Ruins * *
The latest in several cinematic essays from filmmaker and academic Patrick Keiller, Robinson in Ruins is a peripatetic documentary that uses the English landscape as a backdrop for a learned thesis on what he sees as Britain's cultural and economic decline.
The conceit -- and Robinson in Ruins is a project positively teeming with conceit -- is that this movie was made from film cans and a notebook left by the elusive 'Robinson', a wandering savant.
In a narration by Vanessa Redgrave, traces of England's tradition of proletarian revolt are uneathed as the camera travels the backroads of Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Sometimes Keiller's camera alights glumly on nuclear power stations and abandoned US Air Force bases, signs of the American military industrial complex. Mainly, though, this film juxtaposes lingering shots of butterflies and flowers with doom-laden predictions of economic and environmental meltdown.
As the camera wanders the countryside, everything is dragged into the conversation: the evils of Lidl, the link between laissez-faire politics and neo-gothic architecture, the 2008 banking crisis, Greenham Common, the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the madness of international agriculture and the predicted end of life on Earth. It's exhausting.
This is photography with a voiceover -- a rather smug voiceover. Redgrave and Keiller view the sprawling chaos with disdain, and give the impression that they have a simple answer to all these problems. Sadly, we never get to hear it.