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Mitchell Miller – Editor Drouth Magazine Scotland 2008Park takes a scrap of green in London’s sprawl and of it, creates a microcosm of our collective hopes, fears and neuroses. As with all complex, intricate things its essential parts are simple; we follow the amblings of a disparate group of citizens for whom the Park represents many, occasionally overlapping things; for the elderly Josephine it is a literal sanctuary, as represented by the dilapidated memorial to Hiroshima; to two very different men and their dog it is civilisation itself, barometer of a world gone crazy. For one, this craziness is represented by a general collapse in civility, for another man, of freedom itself, as CCTV cameras penetrate into the quite lanes and nooks where local drinkers sing dirges and ruminate on the dangers of white cider. These two very different men are linked by a shared sympathy for a sanctuary encroached on the one hand by zealous, consumerist order and on the other a corresponding sense of nihilistic apathy. Thi sympathy, their shared sentiment for a patch of earth that is equally theirs is the essence of public space, once an ideal even kings acknowledged, now utterly commodified and saleable.
There is plenty here for the armchair intellectual – the way the Park turns, slowly, surely, horribly into a version of Bentham’s Panopticon is a chilling illustration of how double edged the notion of the ‘utilitarian’ can be. The old community of drinkers and crooning bums are ejected just as the mothers and toddlers come back to watch Christmas lights being switched on. It is to the filmmaker’s credit that we are not directed to any one response at this point, but left to consider the dynamics of regeneration, reclaimation and improvement;
all of these processes require a purging of sorts, a realignment of space that pushes the dispossessed, scruffy and cosmetically unappealing further into darkness.
But in truth, for all the many intellectual and social posers it throws at you, Park’s main power is in its visual and narrative poetry. Carefully woven by Justine Gordon-Smith, whose near-obsessive engagement with the subject has swallowed up months and years of her life the Park is presented not so much as a place but a tangle of stories, curious visual juxtapositions and small, earth shattering significances. But what is most powerful is how this carefully realised document of something allegedly ordinary becomes so familiar to us. for we are not transported to an exotic location or some horrendous but abstract trouble spot. Park and the park it films is the most powerful kind of sympathetic magic, one that extends from the screen, bleeds into our everyday surroundings, making its changes and troubles our own.