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Clouds, The (1989)

British Film Institute

Main image of Clouds, The (1989)
DirectorPatrick Keiller
Production CompanyBFI Production Board
In Association WithChannel Four Television
CameraPatrick Keiller
 Julie Norris
TextPatrick Keiller
NarratorIain Cuthbertson

Cast: Iain Cuthbertson; Mandy Evens; Derek Devereux; Christine Dawe

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A black and white semi-narrative film, touching on moments in the narrator's life unavailable to his recollection, and a journey through the North of England on the prevailing wind.

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With its dense, poetic and philosophical text and its sequences of apparently unrelated images, The Clouds (d. Patrick Keiller, 1990) has many threads: the narrator makes parallels between his own conception and birth and the geological formation of the earth. Descriptions of geological time are echoed by images of rocks and water. Mythical giants who lived early in the earth's history show their remains in electricity pylons that dominate the landscape; boats and bridges are the backdrop to Kathleen Ferrier's rendition of traditional Scottish song.

Keiller's characteristic use of shots in which the camera doesn't move, but instead switches from one scene to another, or between different perspectives on the same scene, is reminiscent of the early British documentary tradition, of Humphrey Jennings and even Free Cinema. But Keiller has moved away from using images to narrate, using them rather to obliquely illustrate a fractured and personal text.

The Clouds is a film poem: its meanings are not exhausted in a single viewing, and one can return to it and discover new things, new connections between separate images, and between words and images. It also crystallises many of the methods of composition and narration that Keiller would use in his next, feature-length films, London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1996).

Danny Birchall

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Video Clips
Complete film (19:08)
Production still
Keiller, Patrick (1950-)
They Started Here
Liverpool: Days in the Life