Patrick Keiller Has Been Filming London’s Slow Collapse Since the 1990s
The Tory-led coalition government’s dismantling of Britain’s public services isn’t anything new. During the last stint of socially destructive Conservative rule, architecture lecturer, artist, and cinematographer Patrick Keiller made two seminal films—London (1994) and Robinson in Space(1997)—that pointed out the negative impact that government can have on the British landscape.
VICE: What did you want to achieve by making your last four films?
Patrick Keiller: The three Robinson films [London, Robinson in Space, and Robinson in Ruins] are all attempts to address a “problem” by exploring a landscape with a cine-camera. In Robinson in Space, for example, an initial assumption that the UK’s social and economic ills are the result of it being a backward, flawed capitalism gradually gave way to the realization that, on the contrary, these problems are the result of the economy’s successful operation in the interests of the people who own it.
In Robinson in Ruins, on the other hand, the “problem” is capitalism itself, prompted by Fredric Jameson writing, famously, “It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.” The film arrived at its final destination in autumn, 2008 during the immediate fallout from the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
London includes several shots of the Elephant and Castle neighborhood, which is in the news again because the Heygate Estate public housing project is in the process of being torn down. How do you feel about that?
The Elephant is unusual in that it’s the end of an underground line but very near the center of the city, so there are always a lot of people at the bus stops, as you see in the film. It was the hub of the South London tram network. I was intrigued that the shopping center had never been very successful commercially.
The pictures of the Elephant in London are mostly of the shopping center and some nearby 1960s single-story GLC prefabs that were about to be cleared away when we were photographing the film. An elderly couple had lived in one of them since 1965. As the film relates, “After 27 years in the house, where they had brought up all their children, they were reluctant to leave and had been offered nothing with comparable amenities; but as their neighbors disappeared one by one, the house was increasingly vulnerable and they no longer felt able to leave it for more than a couple of days.”
I Spent a Month Living in a Romanian Sexcam Studio
Until July I shared an apartment in England with two cousins, Lorenz and Alessandro. When I moved out at short notice, I was worried that I’d left the pair in the lurch, but as it turned out my timing couldn’t have been better. “We’re moving to Romania to open a catering business,” they told me. That plan seemed a little unusual, not to mention completely economically unviable, but they assured me that they had it all worked out. They knew a guy who was already running a similar operation in Bucharest, they said.
Come September, I got a message from the cousins asking if I could help out writing up some sales copy for their business. “Sure, tell me more about it,” I wrote. “Well, it’s a secret,” replied Alessandro. It’s tricky to write about secrets, I told him, and after some coaxing he revealed, unsurprisingly, that it wasn’t really a catering business they had opened at all, but a studio full of stripping, pouting, masturbating camgirls and camboys. I told the pair that I didn’t feel comfortable writing sales copy for that kind of thing. Not to worry, they said, before inviting me out to stay with them. Which is exactly what I did at the beginning of last month.
The Bangladeshis Who Make Your Clothes Have Been Given a Raise
As discouraging as it is, no number of documentaries or worthy articles is suddenly going to make everyone in the world care about the people making our underwear for $1.50 a day. A large part of that is probably because it’s hard to comprehend how shocking the working conditions in Bangladesh’s clothing factories are until you visit them for yourself—until you meet the workers being slapped around by their bosses and the kids being hidden on the factory roof every time Western buyers come to town.
In response to those working conditions and wages, which are among the lowest in the world, some workers have been striking for weeks, their frustration often turning to violence as they clash with police. And those violent protests have won them what looks like a victory: the Bangladesh government announced over the weekend that the minimum wage for garment workers is going to be increased by 77 percent, to $67 a month.
I flew out to Bangladesh a couple of weeks before the pay raise was announced to meet some garment workers. Upon arrival, a contact took me to a poor factory neighborhood—a slum, comprised as it was of a few beaten up huts—on the outskirts of Dhaka. There, he introduced me to Bilkiss, a sweet, pretty 18-year-old who had worked at the same garment factory for five years. She is one of an estimated 4 million in Bangladesh who make our clothes.
Canada’s New Medical Weed Program Puts the Poorest Patients Last
At the moment, 40,000 Canadians are currently authorized to possess medical marijuana. Until April 2014, these patients can purchase their supply from a licensed personal producer, or they can get permission to grow it themselves, but soon every Canadian medical marijuana user will be forced to comply with a new medical program that will push them to buy legal medical weed from commercial government-regulated facilities.
Canada’s new “Marihuana for Medical Purposes” (yes, they spell it with an ‘H’ for some reason) program is creating an emerging for-profit market that will regulate crop control, dump money into the economy, and attempt to position Canada as one of the world’s top exporters of medical marijuana. But it’s the patients who are caught in the middle of an evolving system that threatens to make medical weed so expensive many will no longer be able to afford it, forcing them to continue growing their own personal stashes—which will be illegal as of April 2014—or buying it from regular ol’ pot dealers.
According to Health Canada, no one’s trying to turn sick Canadians into criminals with these new laws. It was more in response to problems with the current Marihuana Medical Access Program(MMAP), which a Health Canada spokesperson says is “open to abuse.”
The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media: Interns
Editor’s note: For years, VICE has used part-time unpaid interns—a practice that we recently halted. Our current policy is to pay interns $10 an hour and limit them to 20 hours a week during the school year and 25 hours a week during the summer.
I was 21 years old when I took out my earring, combed my hair, and tried concealing my distaste for power and Washington, DC, in order to ask questions at press conferences. It was the summer of 2006, and I had just left college to go work for a small, do-gooding nonprofit that covered Capitol Hill for public radio.
I went through the whole experience of being a journalist in the nation’s capital: attending deadly boring policy luncheons, interviewing near-dead lawmakers and dead-inside lobbyists, and dying a little inside myself every time I saw my work “edited”—turned into shameful garbage—before going on air.
Like any other reporter, I pitched stories at morning meetings and then did the legwork to put them together, in the process learning the job. While my gut impulse at first was to righteously confront the powerful with strident questions highlighting their logical inconsistencies and factual errors, I soon found it was often smarter to affect an earnest demeanor just a hair shy of sarcastic. You need to let the person being interviewed explain why he is terrible, which is more easily done when he thinks you are stupid or on his side.
Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.
Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.
Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.
These two ads from a new campaign for Swarovski jewelry feature bony models getting “caught” buying and—gasp—even damn near eating food. Ladies? Better get yourselves some shiny baubles to deflect attention away from your disgusting habit of consuming life-giving sustenance.