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
Of Time and the City is a very personal portrait of the city of Liverpool. Created by Liverpool-born director Terence Davies, funded by Northwest Vision and Media and released in the year that the city holds the status of European Capital of Culture, this film charts the tumultuous story of Liverpool in the time-frame of the director's life. The city's story slides from the high hopes of the post-war era to the ominous onset of the Korean War, plunging into the malaise of tower block housing and declining industries before the gradual revival and regeneration of the late twentieth century.
The film consists largely of archive footage from across the past 60 years, book-ended with some new-filmed footage orchestrated by Davies himself. The old film used in Of Time and the City is superbly edited into a continuously evolving story. There are some astonishing images here, from the vibrancy of the absurdly overcrowded 1950's waterfront to the decay and destruction of council housing in subsequent decades. What really sets this film apart, however, is the unique delivery of Davies's commentary. By turns poetical, polemical and romantic, Davies elevates this film beyond a documentary to create a stirring work of art.
Although often bitter and iconoclastic, Davies possesses a terrific dry sense of humour, which he directs against some of Liverpool's most-recognised exports, including the Beatles and the city's famous football club, as well as the current Queen Elizabeth (or 'the Betty Windsor show' as he terms it). But beyond this invective there is great warmth in Davies's film: it is much more a celebration of the people of Liverpool than the known sights and sounds of Liverpool. The emphasis of the film footage old and new is on the lives of the ordinary people living in the city: children playing in crowded streets, families at the seaside, great crowds at sporting events. Davies sets these ordinary goings on to a soundtrack of superb classical music and intersperses them with numerous borrowed lines from literary greats, adapting high art to celebrate the lives of the people in Liverpool. Throughout the film there are also modest fragments of Davies's own story, which emphasises the deeply personal nature of this film.
Of Time and the City is not a methodical history of Liverpool's post-war history such a film would have to run for a lot longer and it is shot through with Davies's strong opinions and acerbic wit. His delivery is often challenging to follow, but it makes for a vivid and engrossing film whose depth and complexity merits repeated viewing.
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