Home » Prose » Poetry and architecture: ‘Another London’

Poetry and architecture: ‘Another London’

I watched a new film the other day called ‘Another London’. It was a sneak preview so I can’t provide a link but when it comes out you should try to see it. It is a film of rare quality. The writer and presenter, Robert Harbison, and the director, Ektoras Arkomanis, are both old friends of mine, but I hope that won’t make you distrust my praise. What mostly happens in the film is that Bob, an American who has lived in London for many years, goes to the places he likes best in London and describes them to the camera. Then the camera has a look on its own to see if it agrees. Some places, such as Hawksmoor’s St George in the East, are pieces of architecture, others such as Deptford High Street, are not. Most are old but one or two, like the Stephen Lawrence Centre, designed by David Adjaye, are new. Quite a few are derelict. This isn’t history (though it includes some history) and these are not ‘examples’. They are not arranged in thematic groups, or placed in chronological order or compared with one another in a systematic way. They are just looked at and talked about. It is the quality of the looking – both Bob’s and the camera’s – that puts this film on a higher artistic plane than, say, the typical BBC4 documentary. Through their eyes we see more. We see the places but we also see the human meaning of those places because they are described so vividly. At one point Bob uses the word ‘iconic’. He is probably using it perfectly correctly, but it sticks out because the script is otherwise entirely free of cliche – which is just a negative way of saying that it is beautifully written. So if it isn’t history, what is it? Well, I think it’s a kind of poetry. Of course it isn’t verse, it doesn’t scan or rhyme and its diction isn’t elevated or far-fetched. But it fits its subject matter more accurately, more intimately, more profoundly, than day to day speech or ordinary documentary scripts. The poetry is in the looking as much as the writing. I should provide an example at this point, but I don’t have a copy of the script and an approximation would not do. You’ll see what I mean when the film comes out.

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