He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London, and reported the following:
I found out that there was a hoax film attributed to John Ford – nobody seemed to know much about it. This eight-minute film was called So Alone and contained “the relationship between (and incidents in the lives of) two men as they wander through Wapping on a cold winter day.” It was supposedly shot in London for the British Film Institute in 1958, when Ford was on location for 1959’s Gideon of Scotland Yard.Learn more about Vanishing Streets at the Stanford University Press website.
Little is known about who perpetrated the hoax or why - Lindsay Anderson and/or Polly Platt may have been involved. I decided to take a more creative approach to my material in Vanishing Streets by attempting to recreate this fake film. I recorded my friends and family extemporizing on what might have happened in the movie, or simply asked them about their own lives. I found out that the people I know don’t like to be filmed very much and that I am not a very good cameraperson.
In my book, I included my own speculative storylines for Ford’s film. My decision to blend creative writing into Vanishing Streets makes the book a hybrid and highly personal work that includes travel, autobiography, and cinema criticism. Originally I set out to write a series of essays about the Free Cinema movement of British documentary in the 1950s. But I soon realized that I was emulating its style of wandering all over London rather than treating my subjects as dead specimens pinned down for academic study. If I accepted Free Cinema on its own terms, I didn’t think it would be honest to leave out my own story or to pretend that anything but subjectivity guided my path.
On page 99 of my book, I’m walking with my friend Ben Walters along the Ornamental Canal connecting St. Katharine Docks with Wapping when we’re interrupted by a group of good-natured South Asian boys shouting, “London, London!” They want us to turn the camera back on them. Later, at Shadwell Basin, we watch another group of kids bravely diving into the Thames. Ben explains that he’s never been to this spot before, despite having lived in London his whole life, and I’m pleased to show him something new. I doubt John Ford could have used any of our material even for an eight-minute narrative. But these are the ordinary moments of serendipity that make London feel like an endless film in which everybody stars.
My Book, The Movie: Vanishing Streets.