William Raban is an artist filmmaker who has exhibited worldwide in both art and film contexts. Initially known for his landscape and expanded cinema films of the 1970s, Raban’s landscape interests, were framed in the 80s towards a more historical and socio-political context: the history of London and the Thames. Reminiscent of Humphrey Jennings’ wartime films, Raban’s films from the 90s onwards look at the island of Britain and its people, in the context of the global economy and the effects of urban change. Commissioned by Acme Studios 72-82 interrogating the archive: the fallibility of memory (2014) has been screened extensively and was part of Raban’s retrospective at the 2015 Oberhausen Film Festival. Time and the Wave (2013) addresses the English obsession with nostalgic displays of pageantry, contrasted with political activism against the corrosive power of late capitalism. It has been screened in cinemas and shown as a continuous installation at the Mercosul Biennale, Brazil 2013. The 3-screen site-specific installation Duchamp’s Dissent was commissioned for the Tate Tanks opening programme (2012) and continues an investigation into how concepts of cubo-futurism can be transliterated into a contemporary digital installation. Commissioned by the Museum of London, The Houseless Shadow (2011) is a nighttime ethnography exposing the plight of the homeless in central London that formed the end piece to the Dickens and London exhibition at the Museum of London December 2011 – June 2012.
THAMES FILM (William Raban, 1986 , 66mins Colour 16mm)
Raban’s reflective, ambivalent approach to cinematic Modernism reaches its apogee in Thames Film (1986)…Narrated by john Hurt, it is the closest Raban comes to a conventional documentary, incorporating archive film from 1921-1951, panoramic photographs taken in 1937. Brueghel the Elder’s painting the Triumph of Death and T.S.Eliot reading Four Quartets. Raban centres a study of the sites of modernity, and the meanings that time has inscribed into them, on the Thames, juxtaposing shots of the river in 1986 with readings from Thomas Pennant’s Journey from London to Dover(1787, close to the emblematic date of ‘modernity’, 1789). Modernity is put on trial: Pennant’s links between British imperialism, technological advances and the Thames are juxtaposed with derelict British imperialism, technological advances and pompous voiceovers from post-war newsreels anticipating the collapse not just of the Empire but also the ideals which supported it.
Gareth Buckell, review on William Raban DVD release (BFI 2005).
By filming from the low freeboard of a small boat, the film attempts to capture the point of view of the river itself, tracing the 50 mile journey from the heart of London to the open sea. This contemporary view is set in an historical context through use of archive images and the words of the travel writer Thomas Pennant, who followed exactly the same route in 1787. (WR)