Carrington Street, Nottingham in 2003, with inset from Tram Ride Through Nottingham, Carrington Street (Mitchell & Kenyon, 1902)
An exhibition, The City of the Future, has just opened at the BFI Southbank. It has been created by the psychogeographical filmmaker Patrick Keiller, director of London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997). Keiller is currently a Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art, where he has been developing his City of the Future research project. His exploration of urban space through archival film has found varied expressions. This multi-screen installation creates a virtual landscape composed of sixty-eight early actuality films from the years 1896-1909, arranged in the BFI Southbank gallery on a network of maps from the period, and displayed over five screens.
Keiller casts a fascinated eye on the mysteries of the urban environment as expressed through archive film which is so much a part of its time and yet can connect with the here and now. Keiller makes particular use of that distinctive genre of the period, the ‘phantom ride’ (which must be such an evocative phrase for him) – journeys filmed at the front or back of moving vehicles. One haunting expression of his vision is Keiller’s simple idea of placing the original film image within a wider frame of the same location filmed today, as illustrated above. The exhibition (which I’ve not seen as yet), also promises visitor interaction:
Visitors are invited to explore this landscape, both by moving among its various screens, and by departing from the sequences displayed on them to create an individual journey using the ‘menu’ functions of a DVD.
The site of Queensbury station in 2004, with inset from Queensbury Tunnel (Riley Brothers, 1898)
The exhibition is open until 3 February 2008. For other expressions of Keiller’s research, a description of The City of the Future and a downloadable ‘database’ (Excel) of titles from the BFI National Archive that he has viewed and identified as relevant to his investigations is on the Visual Arts Data Service website. There is also an account of his project as a ‘case study’ demonstrating the academic use of archive film on the Moving History site.
There’s an interview with Keiller about the exhibition on the Time Out site.
A striking example of phantom ride, A Trip on the Metropolitan Railway (1910), is available from the BFI’s Creative Archive pages. This is a remarkable, prolonged journey filmed from the front of an Underground train on London’s Metropolitan Line, travelling from Baker Street outwards to Uxbridge and Aylesbury. (The original is seventeen minutes long, but the downloadable clip is just under five minutes)