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Aug 25, 2010

The Invisible City: extended report and interview with John Rogers

by Abi Weaver

Photography by Andrej Vasilenko

Nick Papadimitriou goes for long walks, often for days at a time, in an ambitious effort to “hold my region in my mind.” He is comforted by what he sees as the rejected buildings and spaces of London, the “overlooked” places, that lack the care and attention he himself felt he had found wanting in his own early life. Filmmaker John Rogers’ portrait piece ‘The London Perambulator’, about the self-styled Deep Topographer and his loving study of  liminal spaces, started ‘The Invisible City‘ day at The Hub in Kings Cross, an inspirational converted space around the corner from the bustling station, consisting of little brick-and-girder viewing rooms and a tall-ceilinged cafe. Around the tables filmmakers sat giving quiet talks about their films or ‘documentary surgeries’ for the audience, which, with their little pads, seemed to be predominantly students of film of all ages. It was refreshing to see such a mix, as well as an interest in ‘forgotten London’.

‘The London Perambulator’ has a second screening at the Festival next Thursday at The Freeword Centre in Farringdon. Talking to John Rogers after his Q and A session, I asked him how his film and its famous contributors came together. He’s a writer and walker himself, and had put together a book of images from topographical walks as part of a presentation to the Arts Council, which he then gave to friend Russell Brand. He thought Brand would lose it. Months later, Brand rang him up and told him he had to meet Nick, taking them both out on a “blind date”. Brand and Papadimitriou seemed to be old friends; when in the film Russell does an impression of Nick, it’s a nod to a creation of his own from his character sketch days, ‘Warren Kelp’, who seems to be a grotesque part Nick part man-who-lived-in-a-tree-on-Hampstead-Heath compilation, to whom Brand mostly gives Nick’s non sequitur dialogue seen in the film, such as when he explains he burned his school down “twice…They wouldn’t let me do A-Levels.”  Rogers and Papadimitriou developed a walking relationship, and Iain Sinclair, writer of London-worship bibles ‘London Orbital’ and ‘London: City of Disappearances’ , was brought on board when, thinking he’d like it despite never having met him, Rogers sent Sinclair film of his walks with Nick; he’d found his address on an early self-published work, and thought “he probably still lived there.” A reply letter was lost in the mail; Rogers found out he did still live there and he had liked it when a friend said he’d seen the footage used in one of Sinclair’s lectures. In the film, Sinclair describes Papadimitriou as “almost like a Will Self character”: Will Self calls Nick his friend and colleague and defers to him in all aspects of topographical interest. Theirs is a relationship of several decades, sometimes seen in Self’s ‘PsychoGeography’ column in The Independent, and Nick helped him research contours for ‘The Book Of Dave’, using his own maps to work out which bits of London were likely to drown when the floods came. Rogers tells me he actually thinks Nick is a Self character, from ‘Grey Area’; an interesting metafictional consideration further explored when an audience member asks in the Q and A whether Nick is a real person. Rogers admits two things: first, jokingly, that Nick is what he thought Iain Sinclair would turn out to be like, and secondly, that he used the ‘talking heads’ presentation of the often deadpan Self, Brand and Sinclair to raise the question in some viewers of whether the film is a spoof. This really seems to add to the sense of mystery that the film serves to add to our normal conception of London which Papadimitriou has told us earlier is “screened out by modern sensibilities”, as if it’s the magic of a childhood fairytale, once believed and now forgotten.

Also being played at ‘The Invisible City’ were recordings ‘The Best of Resonance’ by Ed Baxter, one of the London-based radio station’s creators. Resonance, found at 104.4 FM, is lauded as ‘London’s best radio station’, and, appropriately for today’s theme, is an inventive, eclectic mix of programming that is incredibly broadminded. It featured heavily in the love-letter to radio that was 2009’s ‘Radio Head’ by John Osborne, an exploration of all that is still good about this increasingly overlooked means of communication, as it seems to aim to only reflect the mixed community of Londoners in the same way that commercial radio stations only reflect the needs of marketing departments; you might have a slot hosted by a 12-year old, or in one of the twelve other languages commonly spoken in London, followed by a music fanzine discoursing on irregular time signatures…or a recording of Nick Papadimitriou reading from his notebooks.

There was a wonderful sense of the accidental and the coincidental at today’s multimedia event, which seems to come down to one thing: communities of people being brought together by something they love. This is what filmmaking should be about.

Posted in: Blog, Comment, Highlights, LIDF events



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