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
We kind of expect our artists to be haunted by demons, it is in tacit understanding that in their art we'll find the template to overcome ours. That, in visiting the dark place which is shared among all of us, we can defer to them for guidance, for the light that dissolves the shadows.
Here we have the personal memoirs of one such artist. We see the demons, the hurt and anger generated by repressed homosexuality or a suffocating religion without answers. But they're up on the screen whole as dragged from the bitterest place, to be vexed than overcome. The manner is petulant, childish. Of course I agree with Davies for example about the obsolete, useless monarchy sucking the blood of the people, but how am I for the better by listening to his obvious, venomous attack upon it? I can get that in every forum online pending the royal wedding, from casual talk on the street.
And what am I to make of the boy's dismay at the silence of god? Which the boy now not-quite grown up, perceives as indictment and completely ignores what comfort he was offered at the time by prayer. Surely, life is more complex than this.
When by the end of this we get the realization of what matters, a life lived in the present without hope or love, it rings hollow because it hasn't been embodied in the work itself, which is riddled with an old man's angst.
And this is not all of it. The elegy to the city and the time that shuffled it is too tricly, oh-so-sombre, so filled with yearnings. What emotion is here is so obvious, that Malick appears subtle by comparison to it. So easily, quickly digestible that in trying to sate so much, to gorge in it, it doesn't sate at all.
What little of this works is the symphony of the city. The kind of film they were making in 1920's Berlin or Moscow to eulogize the booming architecture. With the twist that here, it is the uniquely British genius and propensity for creating a dismal urban landscape that appeals. The drab, grey routine. But I'd rather get this from The Singing Detective, which weaves it into a multifaceted story than a simple nostalgia. Or get the same experience Davies wants for his films from Zerkalo.
I suspect this will fare better for the people who share his vexations with religion and society, and who can relax in them. Me, I can't relax in anything without consideration for what the images and voices in it mean. With movies that transport, I'm always interested in the place they transport to. This is not one of those places.
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