Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Optimists of.... ?Chelsea

The Optimists of Nine Elms is a 1973 film about a grumpy old entertainer (played by Peter Sellers sporting, for reasons that never become apparent, a large prosthetic nose...) who lives with his talented dog in a derelict canalside warehouse supposedly in Nine Elms, Battersea. The film charts his relationship (these were more innocent times) with two "'Battersea" children, Liz and Mark, in a well-trodden filmic path from antagonism through tolerance to friendship. It all plays out against the backdrop of post-industrial decay, as the children wait their chance to move from their cramped Victorian ("Victorian", like "Battersea" is always bad in films up to the 1980s) basement flat with outside loo into the clean, new concrete flats they see "across the river" (meaning north of the river, of course). Except the filming locations tell a different story. That derelict warehouse? It's in Chelsea... Crown Wharf, Lots Road, now the west London branch of Bonhams auctioneers, the decay all around is the site of swanky Chelsea Wharf, just beside Lots Road Power Station.... all north of the river, like the children's basement flat, which is actually in Uverdale road, Chelsea, just behind the power station, all seen here a few years earlier from a picture in English Heritage's Aerofilms archive:

Those wonderful flats are actually miles to the east, and south of the river, at Thamesmead, which plays a less congenial role in A Clockwork Orange, and, more recently, in Misfits.

What does this tell us? Even in 1973 "Chelsea" would not have been plausible as an emblem of social decay. Battersea, more particularly Nine Elms, was a shorthand all Londoners would have understood for deprivation. The discourse of south London = bad, north London = good is as old as Old Father Thames. Aileen Reid, Survey of London

Friday, 7 December 2012

Villain in Nine Elms

Here is an image from the final scenes of the feature film Villain (1971) starring Richard Burton as a Kray-esque crime lord. The image shows the waste ground near the raised railway line that cuts through Nine Elms east of Battersea Power Station. The end of Villain gives us a fascinating look at how the area used to look before the area was developed, also given the scale of the future development plans for the area. See the image below for a model of how the area will look in the not so distant future. Here also is a link to Wandsworth council's website describing the strategy for the area.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Symposium 5th October 2012

Cinematic Battersea: The City as Interface

This 1-day workshop was conceived as a forum for researchers and practitioners working on similar themes – with whom we would like to share our on-going thoughts and activities – as well as explore directions for future research/practice and joint funding applications.
The symposium addressed the following key themes:

Theme 1: Cinematic mapping and film archives
What are the mechanisms through which films relate to the city’s topography, the fabric of the city and its social making? What issues arise regarding the use of film archives and what are the potentials and limitations in making this material (archive and/or amateur footage) accessible to the public/accessible to the public?

Theme 2: Geo-referencing
Several digital humanities research projects have, in the past, tried geo-referencing archive material. One of the issues to emerge is the discrepancy between analytical tools (e.g. GIS) that lack a user-friendly or project-specific interface, and freely available tools (e.g. Google Maps) that have limitations for the deployment and accessing of narrative and time-based material (such as film). Are there ways to overcome such gaps?

Theme 3: Public engagement & networking in space and place
There is little doubt that locative mobile technologies and social networks offer new opportunities that are of interest to researchers working with film and other archive materials. But how can a meaningful dialogue between the academic community and the public be explored?