So, what is Robinson in Ruins about? A good question. Well, it’s about capitalism, local history, international politics, ecology, mysticism and cinematography. It’s a series of still shots of various locations in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, some in extreme close-up, with narrator Vanessa Redgrave reading the journal of a fictional ‘explorer’ called Robinson. His musings ramble across these various subjects but without any real narrative or, if polemic was the intended goal, any coherent argument.
The ‘character’ of Robinson – we never see him, or anyone else for that matter – feels half-baked, perhaps intentionally absurd, and Robinson’s journal entries are devoid of emotion, direction, and personality. One minute we hear about the harvesting of wheat across an interminable shot of, well, the harvesting of wheat; the next we see a neo-gothic building and the narration moves onto laissez faire market economics. There are sparks of interest where the film discusses the enclosure movement of the 16th century, but just as it throws you a bone, it moves onto some facts about local flowers without really linking the two. Redgrave’s voice barely changes tone throughout, and the pace is soporifically pedestrian.
This is actually the third in a trilogy of Robinson films, and their creator, former architect Patrick Keiller, is a respected figure in the area. It may be that I’m a philistine whose work do the previous evening went on a bit too long, and you should perhaps read a more positive review like Brian Dillon's in The Guardian to get some balance. But whilst some of the cinematography in Robinson in Ruins was impressive, particularly the depiction of lichens on a road sign near the Kennington roundabout, this is the idea for a short film stretched to unfathomable breaking point.