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ASYLUM

USA, 1973 (MIFF 1974)

Director: Peter Robinson

Asylum presents everyday life at Kingsley Hall, a community in North London run under the auspices of the Philadelphia Association, whose chairman is Dr R. D. Laing. The center provides a different kind of refuge for the mentally disturbed. There are no apparent divisions between 'staff* and 'patients', nor are there formal consultations with doctors.

Rules are cut to a minimum, and the members of the community are encouraged to behave as they wish, provided they don't interfere with each other's freedom, and pay their rents each week.

Peter Robinson's film opens with Dr Laing briefly explaining how the community works, and then moves directly into observation of the people themselves. There is David, a former university teacher, whose behaviour has become increasingly aggressive; Julie, a shy, awkward girl in her early twenties, who is suddenly taken away by relatives; and Jamie, 17, repressed, unable to take any decision concerning himself.

In one frightening sequence that indicates why Jamie has become schizophrenic, his father comes to Kingsley Hal! and tries to make arrangements for everything he considers his son needs. He wants him taken to the zoo to build up his confidence. But he insists that Jamie be allowed to think all his arranging happened simply by chance.

These dramatic incidents are intercut with scenes of everyday exchanges between the inhabitants and interviews with medical workers. The film-makers themselves are visible during the film, but they seem to have been completely accepted by the members of the community during the six weeks of filming.

'The film is a fascinating and absorbing account of the various people in the community, all the more brilliant because Robinson and his team were clearly so successful in getting themselves accepted while they were filming that we are very, very rarely conscious that anyone is playing up to the camera.'

'The film must and should be seen by anyone remotely interested in the current relationship between psychiatry and society.'

Jonathon Hammond, Films and Filming

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