IN PATRICK KEILLER’S FIRST FEATURE, London (1994), an unnamed, unseen narrator articulates a theory of landscape on behalf of the film’s equally invisible presiding spirit, a spectral figure named Robinson. Flaneur, aesthete, researcher-for-hire, Robinson believed that “if he looked at it hard enough, he could cause the surface of the city to reveal to him the molecular basis of historical events, and in this way he hoped to see into the future.” Within this curious-sounding assertion lies the very promise of the landscape film, a genre with both materialist underpinnings and mystical overtones, endeavoring a study of place that can also be a form of time travel. To look “hard enough” at the spaces captured by the camera is not just to see what is there but also to discern what once was there, and to imagine what will or what could be there.
Keiller, who trained as an architect,
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