Jime seems to slip into a holiday confinement in an East End pub, where I nurse my beer and watch people in another pub in another decade, drinking their sorrows, fighting and sharing the latest Albert Square gossip . You notice the heavy drinking, as well as smoking, in 1980s EastEnders. The characters regularly drink themselves unconscious.
The Lock-In tells the story of EastEnders from its beginnings in 1985 to the present day – from the drunken perspective of its pub, the Queen Vic. Directed by artist Stanley Schtinter, this 100-hour compilation of scenes set in the Vic raises some extremely enjoyable questions about what the hell anyone is watching. I actually felt like I could last the full 100 hours, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t. The nicely Warholian effect is to expose the time we regularly spend staring at screens, either barely caring about what’s going on, or locked into some drama that we know doesn’t really matter. importance, but which entertains for a few hours. The only thing that differentiates this marathon of epic soap operas from binge-watching at home is that Schtinter frames it as art and as an event – stitching together EastEnders clips in a way that melts narrative logic and projecting it in a variety of east London. commercials.
I went on the first day, to the Queen Adelaide in Bethnal Green, where my daughter and I, after making it a family party in the Queen Vic spirit, had to stall the bar for a while waiting for Schtinter to fix a technical problem . problem. It’s an art-friendly pub with posh antique screens and mirrors, a stuffed crocodile, and toilets that double as a gallery, called the White Cubicle Toilet Gallery. We didn’t have to watch The Lock-In in the toilets, though: instead, the downstairs bar had several screens in its cozy alcoves where you could sit, drink in hand, to compare this real ad with the fictional one on screen. .
From the quirky vibe of a 21st century pub with a foot in the art world, you’re catapulted into a grim era of gangsters and crooks. Everyone seems pretty bent over in the Queen Vic in 1985, the year EastEnders started. In this first section (each pub screening unveils a 10-hour timeline), owner Den Watts already earns his Dirty moniker as he bullies hapless bartender Lofty (who, we learn, gets paid on the books that suit everyone until Den’s accountant finds out), and of course cheats on his wife Angie. But everything comes in disembodied fragments. Removing all the action elsewhere in Albert Square means the characters and their misfortunes only come to us in a beer haze, discussing dodgy products and bizarre murders, all over peanuts and crisps.
It’s captivating. You’re trying to make sense of the decontextualized scenes, and at the same time, if you’re not a student obsessed with EastEnders history or a veteran watching it since the 1980s, find out who everyone is. Ah yes – that young villain who makes sinister references to a brutal murder he seems to know enough about is Albert Square’s infamous villain, Nick Cotton.
Then, just as you inquire, there’s another moment of utter inscrutability as various Beales and Fowlers refer to something else we’d know if our time hadn’t been entirely spent in the Vic. Appropriately to the pub setting, it’s like we suffer from regular power cuts. Some things we understand. Other questions, perhaps very important, escape us entirely.
Schtinter created a nice side homage to EastEnders as his drama survives the damage. Then again, how healthy can it be to get lost in the broken memories of a pub that doesn’t really exist?
It is a work in the tradition of Andy Warhol, who created the very idea of an absurdly long screening when he subjected 1960s audiences to his eight-hour film Empire, consisting of a single shot of the Empire State Building. The Lock-In blends Empire’s duration endurance test with Warhol’s later experiments in video and television in the 1980s. Perhaps EastEnders itself was Britain’s first Warholian television programme, full of irony from the start.
Taking an ordinary thing and removing it from its natural context, stripping it of its naturalness, is art – and Schtinter gently and wittily denaturalizes a workhorse of television. But it also suggests something about time. Watching TV and going to the pub are two ways to pass the time. Put them together and you have a subtly unsettling work of art. Does passing time only kill time? Why do we spend so much time having fun doing nothing? At least the drinkers at the Queen Vic have plenty of other things to do: stolen goods to unload, business to hide.
The silver-wigged master would have enjoyed The Lock-In. He has a keen sense of the absurd and an eye for the depth of pop culture. Time!