Of Time and the City (12A)

Written and directed by Terence Davies
Screening at FACT from 31st October – 6th November 2008

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Terence Davies’ love song to Liverpool - or his “chanson d’amour” as he has it in his often flowery style - is a remarkable documentary in so many ways. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t fall into the all-too-common trap of playing up supposedly ‘unique’ characteristics of the subject area, at the expense of making a genuinely human experience that people all around the world will be able to relate to on some level. Of course, the iconic buildings, monuments and statues appear, but only as part of the backdrop for real life flesh and blood characters acting out their own dramas. The result is a very personal yet socially perceptive work, which is full of warmth.

By invoking Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias near the beginning, Davies makes it clear that Of Time and the City is very much a study of change, of death and rebirth. Implicitly, through his sparse yet poetic narrative, we are asked how things have altered in our own lives, for better and worse. He clearly regrets many of the alterations Liverpool has undergone since he was born into a large Catholic family in 1945, even going so far as to say he now feels like “an alien in his own land”. But he certainly doesn’t romanticise the past or its traditions, decrying the poverty that the city has still not escaped, and pouring scorn on how the monarchy were held up almost as demi-gods in the post-war period. Neither does Davies despair of the future: images of lively young people at play in the city centre provide a half echo of the pleasures he enjoyed and felt guilty about in his youth.

Consciously or unconsciously, Davies is nostalgic for the relatively uncommercialised working class way of life that marked the Liverpool he once knew. The neoliberal Capital of Culture illusion is that individualism and pursuit of the credit-bought commodity have submerged this sense of community and solidarity under layers of car parks, consumer cathedrals, and trademarked Scouse-ness. And yet it lives on, in flashes here and there, a sleeping beauty stirring in its sleep. As someone born eight years after Davies' 1973 departure for a career in film, I left the cinema even more in love with my people than before.

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