Dir: Terence Davies.UK. 2008. 74mins.
Over the decades many accomplished directors have created cinematic odes to cities dear to their hearts. Berlin (Walter Ruttmann, from the silent era); Paris (Je T’Aime, particularly Alexander Payne’s segment), and Rome (Fellini). But Liverpool’ You have to hand it to Terence Davies. Although he has not made a film since 2000’s The House Of Mirth, he has successfully constructed an outstanding work about the hometown he may have left behind but has clearly not ceased to haunt him.
Davies accessibly structures what is almost entirely archival footage and narrates the scenes himself using his own memories and observations, infused with a dose of sarcasm and camp. Both local and universal, Of Time And The City, at just 72 minutes, could work on television or DVD, and not just in Britain - although creative marketing is a necessity.
Davies has always been fascinated by both out-of-reach glamour and the banality of everyday life. Here he shifts seamlessly from one to the other, moving the film briskly along in the process. He begins and ends with a false movie screen accompanied by the theme music to Douglas Sirk’s 1956 All That Heaven Allows and projects onto it the most ordinary shots of old Liverpool. Revisiting what he calls ‘the happy highways where I went and can not come again’, is obviously cathartic for Davies, even if melancholy seeps through every frame.
Without judgment, he shows and discusses everything from busy washerwomen to over-decorated Catholic churches (he may term himself an atheist now but the Church has been a tremendous influence on his life and films), slum housing, wrestling matches, rusty steel bridges, and the ugly urban renewal projects that replaced much of the inner city in the 1960s. For him all are significant pieces of the puzzle. The Beatles get short shrift, however, getting no more coverage than children at the public pool or the old women at the tea shop.
To his credit, Davies does not isolate Liverpool from the nation, indeed the world. He talks about ‘the Betty Windsor Show’ - Queen Elizabeth’s ostentatious marriage during a time of rationing. He does not ignore aspects of himself that others might choose to gloss over. He constantly alludes to his homosexuality, whether directly or through gay-inflected humour. Like its director, Of Time And The City is honest and open, censoring nothing in a sincere if relentless quest for truth.
Northwest Vision and Media
Liverpool Culture Company
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