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The Nazi propaganda mastermind behind Hitler speaks in first person as actor Kenneth Branagh reads pages of the diary kept by the chief of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, revealing the man's ... See full summary »
Terence Davies (1945- ), filmmaker and writer, takes us, sometimes obliquely, to his childhood and youth in Liverpool. He's born Catholic and poor; later he rejects religion. He discovers homo-eroticism, and it's tinged with Catholic guilt. Enjoying pop music gives way to a teenage love of Mahler and Wagner. Using archival footage, we take a ferry to a day on the beach. Postwar prosperity brings some positive change, but its concrete architecture is dispiriting. Contemporary colors and sights of children playing may balance out the presence of unemployment and persistent poverty. Davies' narration is a mix of his own reflections and the poems and prose of others. Written by
A portrait of a time, a city and a man; the time being the past, the city, Liverpool and the man, of course, Terence Davies, the acclaimed British film-maker who hasn't made a film in several years because no-one would give him the money and who, now, has been funded to make this, a documentary portrait of his home town, a memoir that ultimately says more about Davies than it does about Liverpool. This is very much a personal project for Davies who not only directed the film but who also wrote the script and narrates it as well. Judiciously, he has used mostly old newsreel footage with some contemporary material to look back at his relationship with Liverpool and the nation as a whole as if to say, this is what shaped him, this is what made him the man and the artist he is. The result, like most of what Davies has done in the past, is a masterpiece; a deeply moving and often very funny study of a vanished age, quite unlike other 'documentaries'. Davies makes no concessions to 'facts', except as he sees them. This, he is telling us, is my view of Liverpool; this, he tells us, is the Liverpool where I grew up and this, he tells us, is the Liverpool he abandoned.
Anyone familiar with Davies' earlier work, particularly "Distant Voices, Still Lives" and "The Long Day Closes", will recognize this as a Davies film from the opening moments, the only difference being that the images on screen are 'real' and not fabricated in a studio. But then, of course, they are only 'real' in so much as Davies chooses to make them real. Like the greatest of documentary film-makers Davies has 'fabricated' reality to suit his own ends. (He is very particular in what he gives us; he has little time for The Beatles or for the Catholic Church while childhood is very much to the fore). And, of course, because the film has more to do with Davies himself than it does with Liverpool, his relationship with the city comes across as somewhat ambivalent. 'We love the things we hate and we hate the things we love' he quotes quite early on and while he presents us with a much idealized vision of Liverpool for much of the time, he never shies away from showing us the poverty and the darker face of the city. One popular song he doesn't use on the soundtrack, (left out, I have no doubt, as being too 'cheesy'), is 'The Way We Were', not the Barbra Striesand version but Gladys Knight's, the one that begins with 'Try to Remember'; "Everybody's talking' about the good old days ... we look back and we think the winters were warmer, the grass was greener, the skies were bluer and smiles were bright").
On the other hand, if the 'autobiographical' trilogy and "Distant Voices, Still Lives" are anything to go by, we know that Davies' own childhood was far from rose-tinted. (The later, "The Long Day Closes", may be seen as being much more about Davies himself and was certainly 'softer' and more homoeroticized that "Distant Voices ..."). Where "Of Time and the City" scores over the 'fiction' films is in Davies' ability to move beyond the family circle to tackle wider issues, taking swipes at both the monarchy and the Catholic Church. I kept thinking, here is a man who will never get a knighthood nor will he ever get to heaven, although I doubt if any loving God would deny entry to so creative a subject as Davies despite his professed disbelief.
"Of Time and the City" is a thing of beauty as much as a painting, icon or piece of classical music and I can think of no director in the history of the cinema who can marry music to imagery as beautifully or as profoundly as Davies, (and when are the CD soundtracks to his films going to be released). "Of Time and the City" is a work of art worthy of its creator and in a year when Liverpool has been designated European Capital of Culture, I can think of no more fitting a tribute.
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