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Driftwood (1999)

Nick Relph & Oliver Payne 


Screening chosen by William Pym, with accompanying text 

Driftwood is the first film made by Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, barely in their 20s, in 1999.

Driftwood was largely the result of a long, unstated workshopping where the two young men spent months hanging out all day in public spaces in London. The film travels from the South Bank to Soho, to Mayfair and the City. The work is a manifesto. It gets woolly at a few moments, but it explains what it is very quickly. It’s upfront. It moves, by chapters, through the geography of London and how it is used, the people who use it. It is a diary of London told on foot and at street level, in a centuries-old tradition, like Pepys, like Jeffrey Bernard. It is also punk. It is both soakingly romantic and completely cynical. It was written with considerable care. It was made by kids.

I believe this film to be among the final statements on Situationism, that undead lifestyle brand, still in the curriculum 20 years later. It was certainly the last one I needed. When the narrator speaks of ‘geology’ and the montage shows graffiti and eroded ancient architecture, and you feel the beauty of it all in front of you in London, you understand that movement of cosmic, urban socialism fully. This film is the totality of Situationism, and it makes a case to get out there and feel it, don’t read about who did it before.

I grew up with this film, and have long understood it to be canon. Yesterday I wondered, as I watched Driftwood’s prophetic yet laughably understated chapter about life in the coming digital dystopia, whether this is an artwork that today’s scene kids and beatniks and art students even know about. 20 years ago looks like 50 years ago, but youth and what young people demand does not change. If you are seeing this for the first time, please enjoy.

William Pym, 2020 for springseason

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