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Of Time and the City
Directed by Terence Davies (2008)
Howard Schumann (howard16)     Print Article 
Published 2010-02-08 10:55 (KST)   
Howard Schumann rates "Of Time and the City" a B-.  <Editor's Note>
His first film since "House of Mirth" in 2000, Terence Davies' elegiac documentary Of Time and the City is a snapshot of memories from his formative years in Liverpool, England, a city mostly known to the world as the home turf of the Beatles.

Consisting of archival footage, personal photographs, and contemporary video, "Of Time and the City" is not meant as a historical document or a linear chronology of events but as a poetic tribute to the city in which he lived from 1945 until 1973. The tribute, however, is unfortunately tinged with bitterness toward the institutions that made his life as a gay man full of anguish.

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Proclaiming that "the world was young and oh how we laughed," Davies shows us glimpses of early days at the beach with extras serving as stand-ins for his family, football matches with their huge crowds, and many, many children with smiling faces. There are also photos of working class families going about their daily chores, carrying their laundry down the street to neighborhood laundries on the top of their head, and buildings defaced with prominent graffiti. To provide context for the images, the film's soundtrack offers bits of popular and classical music, operatic arias, excerpts from radio programs, and Davies' own narration of passages from Yeats, Joyce, Engels, Chekhov, Jung, and Eliot, all delivered in a tone of solemn incantation.

Davies remembers his love for American movies and how he was addicted to Hollywood musicals, westerns, and dramas when he was a young man. Highlighting the appearance of Gregory Peck at the Ritz Theatre across the river from Liverpool, Davies recounts that "my love was as muscular as for my Catholicism, without any of the drawbacks."

Raised as a devout Catholic, the director, now 64, seems to reserve his best barbs for the institution that thwarted his self expression, telling us that religion is "all a lie" and that he has become a "born-again atheist" even while acknowledging his guilt for going to wrestling matches to sneak a feel at passing bodies.

To the music of the Ewan MacColl song "Dirty Old Town" from 1949 that evokes the factories of northern England, the film shows us the poverty and the slums that were torn down in the 1960s only to be replaced by sterile high rise projects which did little to alleviate the poverty. "We had hoped for paradise", Davies proclaims, "we got the anus mundi", a phrase that does not require a translation.

He also does not spare the British monarchy from his venom, calling the coronation in 1953, "Betty and Phil and a thousand flunkies." He notes the amount of money that was "wasted on the monarchy...privileged to the last," while the rest of the population, "survived in some of the worst slums in Europe!"

As for the Fab Four, the only mention they are given is a condescending "yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah," when they are shown in a Liverpool gig. Following the tradition of what he calls "the British genius for creating the dismal," Davies does nothing to lighten the gloom or show the resiliency of the folks in that "dirty old town" but offers only a decidedly skewed look at a vibrant creative city, distorted by his own memories of isolation.

Calling his film his "chanson d'amour for all that has passed," Davies fails to communicate the warmth and love implicit in that label. He quotes Chekhov that "the golden moments pass and leave no trace", yet fails to see that for the golden moments to leave their mark, one needs to look past the anger and expand one's vision to see the "Penny Lanes" and the "Strawberry Fields Forever".

This article has not appeared in any other news medium but has been submitted to Cinescene (www.cinescene.com)
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Howard Schumann

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