The Last Detail: London kills me

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The Independent Culture
LET ME focus for once on a missing detail: the curious absence of London from Night on Earth. Jim Jarmusch's portmanteau film is less a road movie than what might be called a street movie, relating as it does five nocturnal taxi rides across the cities of Los Angeles, New York, Rome, Paris and Helsinki. Not, though, London - just as, in Wenders' Until the End of the World, a real road movie encompassing three continents, London was also, conspicuously, bypassed.

In her review of Night on Earth Sheila Johnston suggested that it was the London cabbie's 'resolutely professional' temperament that alienated Jarmusch. Maybe so; but the fact remains that London is by far the least filmed of all the great capitals, even by local directors. It was Truffaut who, adopting the very loftiest of overviews, first mooted 'a certain incompatibility between the terms 'Britain' and 'cinema' '. More modestly, Stephen Frears claimed that what made it hard to shoot a convincing thriller in the capital was the silly shape of policemen's helmets. And, in the same vein, I would argue that there is something fatally resistant to filmic mythologising in London's snug, smug rows of suburban semi- detacheds. Can one, after all, imagine a typical Jarmusch character asking his cabbie to take him to Balham, say, or Hackney Wick? Can one even imagine the terminally hip Jarmusch himself in Hackney Wick?

Which prompts another question, one that nobody, to my knowledge, has ever properly addressed: is there another country in the world where the dead weight of the humdrum is so oppressive, where the ordinary is so sheerly ubiquitous? I myself lived for many years in France, which has its fair share of dull, unexotic communities. Yet there is no French 'Neasden' or 'Romford', no town like Scunthorpe or Slough that is a joke to its own countrymen; the same, I feel sure, is true of Italy, Germany, Spain, etc. And it may well be that, in the context of the movies at least, what we in Britain feel about Neasden the rest of the world is beginning to feel about London.

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