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DVD: A London Trilogy – The Films of Saint Etienne 2003-2007 | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: A London Trilogy – The Films of Saint Etienne 2003-2007

DVD: A London Trilogy – The Films of Saint Etienne 2003-2007

Powerful psycho-geographic documents which confirm that powerlessness is endemic in London

A still from ‘What Have you Done Today Mervyn Day?’: bye-bye tyres, hello Olympics

The default word for these films, made by the band Saint Etienne with their collaborator and former guitarist Paul Kelly, is "poignant". As elegiac visual poems which capture the always-evolving environment of London, they certainly are expressive. They are also often described as nostalgic, as they cast a lens across businesses and buildings, proprietors and townscapes that are now gone. The mood they evoke is one of longueur: a figurative sigh.

Fine as far as it goes, but that’s passive wallowing. What they generate from my viewpoint in north London is a tremendous anger, one born from a realisation that powerlessness is endemic in this city.

One of these films, 2005’s What Have you Done Today Mervyn Day?, records the Lower Lea Valley before it was recast and reborn as the Olympic Park. Sure, it was a particularly unlovely area and required regeneration, but it did have a thriving economy with businesses, which wasn’t what was meant to be central to our post-Cool Britannia nation. Car breakers, concrete works, a doner kebab factory, a wig warehouse – all side by side with temples and sub-strata nightspots. Every one of them was closed or shunted off elsewhere to make way for London 2012. Of course, change comes. Nothing can be fixed in stone, but this was wholesale change on a scale unprecedented during peacetime.

At the time of writing, a project called High Speed 2 (HS2) is being propagated by the current government, as it was by the previous. At least we voted that lot in. HS2 is a new rail line between London’s Euston Station and Birmingham. It’ll carve a gash through undeveloped land beyond London. The selling point is that it will shave minutes off the journey between London and Birmingham.The current estimate is that, beyond the inherent environmental and social damage, it will cost 43 billion pounds of the public – our tax money – budget. In London, it will lay waste to Drummond Street, a short road west of Euston. One of the shops along it proposed for obliteration is a branch of the Ambala Sweet Centre. Their factory in the Lea Valley was demolished to make way for the Olympics. What comes round, comes round.

Instead of being suffused by the rosy glow of nostalgia while watching these powerful psycho-geographic documents, let the red mist of anger to take over. From cafés - like The New Piccadilly, which English Heritage refused to protect (see what they cravenly allowed to be destroyed below) - to entire swathes of the city, much of this documents London’s and Londoners' powerlessness when confronted with the machine.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch the short film Today's Special - The New Piccadilly, included on A London Trilogy – The Films of Saint Etienne 2003-2007


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