Thursday, February 11, 2010

The London Nobody Knows

This is an extraordinary film from 1967.

It is written by Geoffrey Fletcher, who (as Electric Sheep explains) was an illustrator and columnist for the Daily Telegraph in the 1960s who "documented the sights, sounds and scenes of a London fast vanishing beneath the grey concrete tide of redevelopment". He published several illustrated collections of these columns and I have a copy of the book that shares a title with and inspires this film.

James Mason narrates it, wearing the sort of dapper cloth cap I have taken to affecting myself. He takes in the street markets (rightly treated as survivals of Victorian London rather than an outbreak of the Swinging Sixties), the extraordinary ruined Bedford Theatre in Camden, a Yiddish Theatre that has become a bingo hall and Salvation Army hostels.

He visits Shoreditch, knocks at the door of a decrepit house and goes through to its yard to show us where one of the Ripper's victims was found. Mason says there are people still living in the area who remember the murders, and you believe him.

The London Nobody Knows shows the city at an important juncture. Victorian slums stand next to new tower blocks (which are welcomed in a commentary that avoids easy nostalgia). You can even see the sixties contending with an older world in the clothes of the children playing in the streets.

As Electric Sheep says, Fletcher anticipated the psychogeography of Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd by decades. And an imagined scene at an egg-breaking plant looks forward to Jonathan Meades.

The London Nobody Knows shares the DVD with Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, a bit of sixties whimsy shot in village Hampstead. At least it has a good theme song.

Finally, a scene from a time when there were no more than a dozen buskers left in London...

6 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

This is a terrific film, and I'm also a fan of Fletcher's London books (London Overlooked, London's River, Pearly Kingdom, etc, etc). His Down Among the Meths Men is a particularly strong, unsentimental, compassionate account of the capital's down and outs, stunningly illustrated.

Frank H Little said...

Is this the film which includes a rare clip of a performance by Georgia Brown?

Anonymous said...

Nice to see that, though there may have been only a dozen buskers, the tradition of wearing a hat that makes them look "absurd" was maintained.

Jonathan said...

There is no Georgia Brown, but someone tweeted to say you can see a mini with Liberal posters at one point. Have not spotted it yet.

Anonymous said...

FYI the Liberal poster on a passing car mentioned by the last contributor - it's at 10 mins 39 seconds, during the market scene.

The Reviewer said...

When you have a bit of time Jon, please read my review about this documentary - http://www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com/2011/09/london-nobody-knows.html