Richard Ware Adams


Encounters Through Film


From “Asylum” © 1972, renewed 2000 Surveillance Films, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
1972. 96 minutes (excerpt 1:25)
Filmed & edited for producer/director Peter Robinson

Available from Kino International

Working on this with Peter Robinson was an amazing and unforgettable film-making experience -- living for six weeks in the controversial Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s Archway Community in London, originally established in Kingsley Hall as a therapeutic commune where patients and therapists could live together without white coats or needles. In 2009 I wrote:

“It was of necessity a fairly select group, without the most extreme forms of mental incapacity. They might be schizophrenic or just bi-polar, suicidal or just a little paranoid, slightly neurotic or simply curious about the mystery of human existence. But diagnostic labels were irrelevant. No one there was totally insane or – as we on the film crew were sometimes painfully aware -- totally sane. But we all seemed to share that sense of the mystery, which may partly explain the extraordinary tone of unpretentious honesty with which people talked with one another. It may have taken us a week or two to become accustomed to this ambience but it often put into stunning relief the sometimes stilted behavior of certain visitors or even that of our friends and acquaintances on the outside. […]

“….I believe that what was achieved at Archway (and captured in our film) was an expression of what I think is the heart of Laing’s legacy: that along with any kind of therapy, with or without recourse to medication, there has to be the presence of a fellow human being who can relate to the “patient” on that basis…..”

Almost terrifyingly direct and involving, […] a model of cinema verite. […] Although the dialogue in Asylum is bizarre as it is painful, truly tragicomic in a way that Beckett and Pinter would be stretched to equal, the characters can’t be kept at an emotional distance. Asylum takes the key away from the audience - and makes excitingly dangerous connections.
Martin Knelman, Toronto Globe and Mail, 1974

Peter Robinson’s Asylum, artless and unpretentious, is really a communiqué from some other, unexplored subcontinent of the soul. […]….sucks one in totally with its eloquence, giving, in the manner of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, form, sound, and substance to individual anguish.
John Wykert, Psychiatric News, 1974

Robinson is clearly sympathetic to Laing, but the director wisely feels no compulsion to squelch the thorny questions that arise. Should people with such diverse problems be treated together? Is adequate supervision possible in a relaxed communal environment? What is the proper distance between doctors and patients? While Archway - and Robinson - can’t offer ideal answers, anyone familiar with the systemic abuses of power that Wiseman catalogued knows that just provoking these queries was a sign of progress.
Darren D’Addario, Time Out, 2003

Asylum © 1972 Surveillance Films

ASYLUM premiered in 1972 as the opening film of Karen Cooper’s tenure as director of New York’s Film Forum. In February 2010 it was shown on the opening night of MoMA’s tribute to Film Forum’s first 40 years and Cooper’s 38 years of premiering documentaries. 1970s Festivals included Berlin, Edinburgh, Toronto, and subtitled editions were shown theatrically in Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. Since its 2003 weeklong revival run at New York’s Anthology Film Archives, discussion/screenings in art cinemas have included Vancouver, Glasgow (honoring what would have been the late Laing’s 80th birthday), Warsaw, and in 2011 at Johannesburg’s very young Bioscope, which emulates the curatorial gusto of Film Forum.

For more on Peter Robinson and his films on Laing visit Surveillance Films

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