In Patrick Keiller’s film, a fictional researcher (with the voice of Tilda Swinton) returns from a 20-year absence in the Arctic to find that, though the UK is one of the most advanced economies technologically, its houses are the most dilapidated in western Europe.
‘A few years ago’, Keiller says, ‘it occurred to me to explore the predicament of the house in advanced economies. At the time, this seemed an unfashionable subject. The definitive experiences of modernity, or postmodernity, seemed to involve movement. To stay at home (as, for various reasons, I was increasingly inclined to do) seemed to marginalise oneself, despite the home’s being increasingly a place of work, and increasingly open to electronic communication. The physical fabric of the house was even more problematic. In the UK most consumer items – food domestic appliances, cars and so on – had become cheaper, either as a result of new technology, or of shifting production to lower wage economies, or both, but the cost of housing went on increasing. The housing stock was ageing and not generally in very good condition. New houses were comparatively few, and were mostly reduced versions of the houses of 50 or 100 years ago. Was some consumerist innovation about to challenge this, or is there a kind of opposition between the house and present-day developed economies?’
Nearly 20 years on from his film’s first release, housing in the UK remains costly, rents are rising, property is in short supply and a house is seen as an investment rather than a home. The Dilapidated Dwelling includes archive footage of Buckminster Fuller, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Archigram and Walter Segal, and interviews with Martin Pawley, Saskia Sassen, Doreen Massey, Cedric Price and others.
The 2019 Festival of the Future City includes classic utopian films about cities; cities in silent cinema; documentaries on New Towns, democracy, the housing crisis and the anthropocene in the series: Cities, Future Cities and Film. We are grateful to BFI for their support for this programme.
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