I found myself back at the Whitechapel Gallery last night for the world premier of John Rogers’ film The London Perambulator. This documentary is a portrait of arsonist and ‘deep topographer’ Nick Papadimitriou. In 1975 the teenage Papadimitriou burnt down his school, and as a result got banged up in Ashford Remand Centre; a little later he found himself locked in a cell next to serial killer Dennis Nilsen at Wormwood Scrubs prison. Now in his fifties and after overcoming drug addiction, north London based Papadimitriou spends his days tramping around the liminal spaces of the city and collecting archival material connected to his walks. Some might call this psychogeography but since the term is now hackneyed, ‘deep topography’ provides a more attractive description. Papadimitriou’s fascination with suburban sprawl and sewage works might be seen as ‘eccentric’, and The London Perambulator struck me as a cross between Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit’s Channel 4 movies such as The Falconer and works by the artist Luke Fowler including Bogman Palmjaguar and The Way Out (see right column on link for Fowler review).
Like Luke Fowler in his art film portraits, Rogers refrains from providing a straight account of Papadimitriou’s life, instead leaving it to the viewer to piece together biographical fragments. The London Perambulator has a grunge aesthetic, including shaky camera-work and with the outdoor shots filmed from a walkers’ perspective, so there are no panoramas or aerial shots. Intercut into this are talking head sequences of Papadimitriou’s three most famous friends speaking about him and his activities. The talking heads are media personalities Russell Brand and Will Self, complimented by writer Iain Sinclair. Self and Sinclair are shot in their homes, whereas Brand appears to be reclining in the offices of his Vanity Productions company. There is the odd shot of Papadimitriou in his flat, but mostly he is filmed outside, sometimes accompanied by Will Self. There are variations in sound quality, with the audio on the Brand segments being superior to everything else. Brand’s Vanity company produced The London Perambulator, Rogers works there and obviously studio equipment is generally superior to its portable equivalents. That said, the sound is acceptable throughout the film, and the changes in its quality are simply a part of its grunge aesthetic. In the interests of clarity, I also need to declare here that there are a couple of projects I’ve been developing with Rogers and Vanity for some time; so if anyone wants to make accusations of nepotism, I should be included in them for blogging about this film!
After the screening there was a panel talk featuring Rogers, Sinclair and Self, with Goldsmiths College academic Andrea Philips as chair. Rogers and Sinclair acquitted themselves well. Unfortunately, the discussion became somewhat strained when Andrea Philips asked Self whether there was a master/slave relationship between him and Papadimitriou. Self jumped down her throat by denouncing this as a detour into the bondage parlour, whereas it seemed to me that Philips was invoking Hegel’s famous and much discussed master/slave dialectic as a reference point. Likewise, my impression was that Philips was putting Papadimitriou forward as the more senior partner in his obviously close and collaborative relationship with Self, but the media personality angrily responded that Papadimitriou was in no way beholden to him. It is difficult to imagine anyone who had just seen Rogers’ film coming away with that impression, since after viewing it only a reversal of Self’s perspective would seem in the least bit feasible.
Philips appeared shaken by Self’s odd reply to her question, which might explain why having opened the session by talking up her own academic expertise in the areas of psychogeography and urban walking, she closed by asking why these activities appealed only to men. Sinclair soon put her straight by explaining that most of those wanting to do walks with him were women, and of course Philips’ own academic research also served to disprove her final assertion. Afterwards a good number of those present headed up to the Whitechapel bar, where Self’s claim that Papadimitriou was a contemporary Rimbaud came in for some heavy criticism. On the basis of the Rogers’ film, it would appear that Papadimitriou is principally concerned with observation, whereas Rimbaud’s focus was transformation; such differences clearly render Self’s claim untenable.
The London Perambulator was screened as a part of the East London Film Festival (23-30 April 2009, various locations).
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!