Beneath the surface

Historians and film-makers seem to find London a source of endless fascination: there’s Peter Ackroyd’s London.

Historians and film-makers seem to find London a source of endless fascination: there’s Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography, Sarah Wise’s novel The Italian Boy (about murder and grave-robbery in 1830s London) and Patrick Keiller’s film London. Now Gerry Fox, who has made documentaries on artists such as Marc Quinn and Gilbert & George, is to unveil his ‘art film’, Living London, at London gallery 176. It is technically ambitious. Films are projected on to a room’s four walls, ceiling and floor, immersing the viewer in several bustling London scenes simultaneously: Dalston’s Ridley Road Market, hedonistic Soho by night, anti-Iraq War demos, and so on. The film is personal yet enigmatic. Its main conceit is that its central character also holds the camera, so you never see him and the autobiographical details aren’t obvious. Apparently, that’s Fox’s baby daughter crawling on the grass in front of the Houses of Parliament, while on another screen is Peter Pan’s statue in Kensington Gardens – an intimation of immortality. But while the piece prompts cerebral connections, its immersive, environmental nature also makes it visceral – sometimes you stop analysing it. One appallingly mesmerising scene shows a bulldozer spreading rubbish in a landfill site. One flaw, perhaps, is that Fox’s apparent aim is to make a comprehensive portrait of London, whereas, at 25 minutes long, it’s inevitably selective, and hence really more of a snapshot. Yet it is still thought-provoking and hypnotic, in equal measure.


Living London is at 176 Gallery, 176 Prince of Wales Road, London NW5 from 31 January to 20 April

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