Introduced by Paul Kelly and Pete Wiggs
Banksy in London
It would be easy to be sceptical about Banksy in London, a video-length assemblage constructed by Paul Kelly and Kieran Evans when they were making Finisterre. These days the artist is the subject of international documentaries and identity-revealing exposés in the middle-brow press; his work is as likely to be found in LA as in Bristol or London and the graffiti collections he used to bring out as tiny self-published volumes make big money for international publishers.
So it’s actually all the more valuable to be reminded of a time when Banksy’s street art was just one example – witty and eye-grabbing (and, pre-social media, something to urge friends to look out for the next time they were in East London) – of the ways in which the capital itself is a graphicscape. Forget Martin Amis or Zadie Smith, or whoever is being hailed as the latest exponent of the Great London Novel, Kelly and Evans’ film shows us how the city is the ultimate textual generator: phone-booth call-cards, slogans on political placards, gig flyers, greasy-spoon signage.
Much of this text is fleeting, uncommissioned, borderline invisible. As London’s public spaces become ever more codified and privatised, there’s been a crackdown on such subaltern writing (just as there now is on public libraries). Banksy in London represents less a tribute to Banksy than to the idea of a multi-lettered London.
Broadcast by Channel 4 over three successive evenings in July 2004 this series of brief films offers a glimpse of London’s threatened outposts of independent dining and drinking – the cafés and coffee shops of the mid-20th century. Sandwiched between shots of the capital’s more celebrated sights – the British Museum (‘Tea Rooms’), the ‘Gherkin’ (‘Eldon Street’) and the Eros statue of Piccadilly Circus (‘New Piccadilly’) – the establishments profiled in Today’s Special have all since shut up shop: the Tea Rooms, Copper Grill and Piccolo Sandwich Bar in 2004 and New Piccadilly hanging on till September 2007.
Paul Kelly’s beautifully reflective and witty camerawork – with its echoes of Finisterre – works like a still life, playing on the mortality present in period fixtures. This is most evident in ‘Tea Rooms’: a loving study of the Corsini’s cafe on Museum Street, which opened in 1960. As Mrs Corsini reflects on her retirement we see an empty menu board, an abandoned spider’s web and safety stickers peeling from the equipment they once vouched for. An earlier section juxtaposes the characterful signs of independent cafes with the brash modern frontage of ubiquitous high-street coffee chains, revealing – in the half of the corporate branding we see on screen (BUCKS, COST) – the root cause of the Tea Rooms’ (and others like it) closure.
The Copper Grill and Piccolo Sandwich Bar of the second film ‘Eldon Street’ are, just as New Piccadilly in the third, victims of London’s ever-changing built environment. The proprietor of the Piccolo Sandwich Bar sums it up – ‘we’ve asked if we could come back. They’ve said we could try but during that conversation they did mention Sainsbury’s about ten times’. The Soho site that formerly housed New Piccadilly is, at time of writing, under the management of Firmdale Hotels Plc – the original building has been pulled down and replaced. Decked out in the colours of the Festival of Britain, New Piccadilly’s prices matched its original 1950s décor and its fate provides an interesting contrast to the restored Royal Festival Hall in This is Tomorrow.
Monty the Lamb
North West London is the setting for this cheerful portrait of Isthmian League team, Hendon FC. Narrated by Dave Garner, who dresses up as the club’s mascot, Monty the Lamb, the film features ‘Soft like Me’ from Saint Etienne’s album Finisterre. The club’s motto Possunt Quia Posse Videntur (‘They Can Because They Think They Can’) is a good indication of the pride and positivity of Dave and the team he represents – attributes underscored here by the dynamic editing of the closing sequence and the up-tempo Saint Etienne track ‘Are We Gonna Be Alright?’ from the 1999 album Built on Sand.
The Other South Bank
South Bank, a short distance from the centre of Middlesbrough on the river Tees, is about as far from the riverside leisure and commerce of the Southbank Centre on the Thames as could possibly be imagined. In Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne’s short, quietly angry film it’s a place that has been eviscerated, a panorama of dereliction and blight.
Yet, oddly enough, it’s a place that seems to retain a little of the optimistic socialist and social spirit that animated the creation of the Royal Festival Hall, albeit as a rather more distant memory. As we see the area’s rusting workplaces, the remnants of the once massive employers (steel at Dorman Long, shipbuilding at Cammell Laird), voices tell us about a place where people felt they could share things, where they could leave their doors open, where they had ‘everything necessary for life’, a blasted ‘slaggy island’ whose dramatically unlovely appearance didn’t correspond to unlovely people – even today, the residents tell us, ‘you’ll never feel lonely’. That’s even with half the houses empty, as all we can see, for the most part, is row after row of tinned-up terraces. What happened here?
It happened 20-30 years ago, we’re told: ‘Margaret Thatcher is the most reviled figure in the history of South Bank… there’ll be a mass celebration here when she dies’, says one, and no doubt this was one of the places that did have a street party when she expired. Absentee landlords are the other demon here, partly responsible for a place where the war looks like it ended yesterday, not in 1945.
The only thing we see being repaired is a CCTV camera, though there are flashes of new uses and of life – a ‘Millennium Green’, a mosque and a corner shop still open, a garden full of odd sculptures, plants and objets d’art. For the people of the Other South Bank, as one of them tells us, ‘community spirit is alive and kicking’ – he pauses – ‘to some extent’.
And then what? Seven summers later Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne returned to this landscape [the Lea Valley from What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?]. It has gone, of course. Completely and utterly, without trace. All that is left on the site is one solitary Victorian warehouse. The 2012 Olympics are about to start.
What is so breathtaking about the transformations in the Lower Lea Valley is the contrast. Here was a patch, futuristic in the 19th century, where social movements and invention took place; but left behind by the end of the 20th; and now yanked with a speed and absoluteness into a future not of its choosing.
Architecture can make you forget. It’s very good at it. That’s why powerful people build buildings. In this day and age, you would think that we had means more sophisticated with which to assert one’s authority on a place, something nimble and clever, perhaps, involving drones and Jack Bauer. But you can’t beat good old-fashioned town planning. Architecture, with its weight and might, can rewrite history, at least until the archaeologists return thousands of years later and see the truth marked in the soil beneath.
Film, though, can help you remember. It is better than architecture at telling tales. The fragility of its ephemeral, flickering light makes it perfect for stories of memory and the past. Which is why even Seven Summers, this small epilogue to What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? is so powerful. The clue is in the title. Just seven summers is all it has taken to wipe out the complex ecosystem of the Lower Lea Valley, built up over hundreds of years.
Architecture, by contrast, always tends towards masking the past. It tries to convince us, with its monumentality, that things will remain the same. That’s why people build monuments. It’s folly. Yet we do it again and again. One day the Olympic buildings, just like the Carpenters estate, will be ruins. ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
All text from A London Trilogy: The Films of Saint Etienne 2003-2007 DVD booklet (BFI, 2013)
BANKSY IN LONDON
Filmed and Directed by: Paul Kelly, Kieran Evans
Edited by: Paul Kelly
Music: Saint Etienne
TEA ROOMS / ELDON STREET / NEW PICCADILLY
Filmed and Directed by: Paul Kelly
A CC-Lab production
Produced by: Andrew Hinton
Edited by: Mikey Tomkins
Music by: Saint Etienne and Ian Catt
Sound Mix by: Daniel Herbert
Titles by: Rob Jones
MONTY THE LAMB
Director: Paul Kelly
Producer: Bob Stanley
Photography: Paul Kelly
Editor: Paul Kelly
Music: Saint Etienne
Narrator: Dave Garner
THE OTHER SOUTH BANK
Filmed and Directed by: Paul Kelly
A Pilgrim Films production for Southbank Centre and Northern Film and Media
Produced by Andrew Hinton
Edited by Paul Kelly
Music by Saint Etienne
Filmed with the assistance of:_Jan Williams, Chris Teasdale of The Caravan Gallery
_Thanks to: Linda Fleetham and all at Golden Boy Green Community Centre, Lucy MacNab and Shan MacLennan at Southbank Centre, Roxy Bramley at Nothern Film and Media, Louise King at Coin Street Community Builders, Terry and Jean Donaghue, Chris and Julie, Dick Fawcett, Cliff and the people of South Bank, Middlesbrough
Filmed and Directed by: Paul Kelly
A Heavenly Films production
Commissioned by: Create
Sponsored by: Deutche Bank
Supported by: The Arts Council of England
Produced by: Andrew Hinton for CC-Lab
Produced and Edited by: Paul Kelly
Written by: Bob Stanley
Original 2005 Lea Valley Footage filmed by: Paul Kelly, David Raedeker
Music by: Saint Etienne, Ian Catt, Pete Wiggs
Narrated by: Sarah Cracknell
THE FILMS OF SAINT ETIENNE
This Is Tomorrow + intro by Bob Stanley and Paul Kelly
Fri 3 Sep 14:30
Asunder + intro by Esther Johnson and Bob Stanley
Sat 4 Sep 12:00
Finisterre + Q&A with Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs
Sat 4 Sep 15:00
How We Used to Live + Q&A with Pete Wiggs and Travis Elborough
Sat 4 Sep 17:20
Saint Etienne: Shorts Programme + intro by Paul Kelly and Pete Wiggs
Sun 5 Sep 13:00
Lawrence of Belgravia + Q&A with Paul Kelly and Lawrence
Sun 5 Sep 15:30
What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? + Q&A with Pete Wiggs and Paul Kelly
Sun 5 Sep 18:30
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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