1970s England was a bleak place to be. When a biscuits factory DJ sets out on a haphazard road trip from London to Bristol to find why his brother died, it is to an industrial soundtrack by Bowie and Kraftwerk, bookended by mention of Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, who were involved in a taxi crash on the A4 in 1960. Cochran was killed. Petrol pump archangel Sting appears to help Robert (David Beames) along the pilgrims’ way, singing ‘Three Steps to Heaven’. Chris Petit’s debut hints at the psychogeographic terrain he would cover years later, in particular in his collaborations with Iain Sinclair, but this depiction of a foggy grey world of flyovers, ring roads, cassettes, vinyl singles, and psychotic squaddies fresh from tours of Belfast, occupies a singular space in cinematic history. Clearly influenced by the films of Wim Wenders, and boasting a few German women, this is an expression of existential fug, stuck in a suicidal realm where people reside in a state of mistaken identity. It would later receive a remix but this is the real thing, not just a road trip,but a psychological journey.
Identity. Alienation. Space. The little things in life were Antonioni’s preoccupation and never moreso than in this brilliant disquisition on unknowability scripted by Mark Peploe and Peter Wollen and Antonioni himself from Peploe’s story. It is about a man who trades his world for that of another man’s, to his cost. It is about the shapes we make, as Maria Schneider’s character observes. It is about the endless quest for something out of nothing. This is a film which simply improves with age, fusing the two avant gardes in a post-Godard era. “The cinema cannot show the truth, or reveal it, because the truth is not out there in the real world, waiting to be photographed” – Peter Wollen, The Counter Cinema, 1972