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Of Time and the City
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by Martin Schoo

"There's much more to Liverpool than the Beatles"
4 stars

Terence Davies’ documentary is essentially a one-man play. In a resonant monologue he quotes artists, poets and writers, refers to pop culture, highbrow pleasures, and his own reminiscences. With these ingredients, he has produced a touching portrait of his home city Liverpool, as well as a canvas on which to ponder the enduring questions of life.

With a sort of sad fondness, he doesn’t over-romanticise his past, but some of it is tinged with nostalgia. Memories, dangling tantalisingly out of reach, haunt him as much as they do anyone else, and his clear-eyed descriptions go some way to bringing us with him as he recounts the by turns prosaic and wonderful events of his youth, and his emergence as an adult Liverpudlian.

But while the film is on the one hand a philosophical mood piece, it is also after all a collection of Davies’ own opinions, and thus much of the content is politicised. Passionate in equal measure when discussing what delights and disgusts him, all parts of society - its ills and strengths - come under his microscope.

Davies saves most of his scorn for those bastions of British society: the Church and the Royal Family. Contrasting their opulence and sense of self-importance with the hardships of the poverty-stricken people they are supposedly representing, Davies is relentless in his disdain for the pompous figureheads he sees as a waste of money and essentially as a sham.

Davies adopts an almost royal tone himself, arch and scornful, and positively hateful towards certain topics: for instance spitting out the Beatles’ ‘yeah yeah yeah’ with derisive venom. Yet his voice is a beautiful tool; it is a pleasure to be flooded with his consonants and vowels.

Some of the audiovisual pairings are inspired, and give the viewer a vivid impression of wandering through the author’s mind. In particular, a scene of children singing in the outdoors overlayed with beautiful opera score gives the everyday a glorious, holy quality. This is the sort of religious feeling that Davies has, it would seem – a reverence for the silent mystery of time, its passing, and all of its participants.

The stock footage is particularly poignant - even the youngest children featured in these snippets are now at the very least grandparents, possibly older than their parents who accompany them in these B&W snatches of celluloid.

Davies’ own love of film is another central theme. ‘In the movies it was always Christmas and it was always perfect,’ he enthuses. It would seem that it was here, instead of at church (so condemning of his emerging homosexuality), that he found a feeling of safety and sanctuary.

As time moves on, his eye turns to architecture and war, with both enterprises sucking some of the life from his city. New housing commission skyscrapers tower over the terraces like hunters and prey, and drab scenes of inhabitants decaying along with these monoliths help us to understand the sense of despair these tenements must have prompted in many. An old woman kicks a can outside the front of a lift, a simultaneously depressing yet hopeful example of the self-respect that survives even in the most bleak of circumstances.

It’s not all doom and gloom - Davies’ sharp sense of humour often shines through. His description of the Beatles as ‘a firm of provincial solicitors’ is amusing whether you dislike the mop tops or not; and his droll observation that during sporting events someone would always faint of heatstroke ‘because it was a couple of degrees above freezing’ is priceless.

For all his anger and pessimism, he leaves us on a dreamily positive note – a rainbow over the Liverpool skyline segues into night-time fireworks, and his voice, gently fading, intones ‘Good night, ladies, good night,’ like the end of a show, like a lullaby voice-over.

Davies knows he can’t solve any of the mysteries examined in his film. Nevertheless, he has given us a beautiful, passionate reflection on life and the meaning we can give to it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17679&reviewer=423
originally posted: 03/31/09 16:56:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  21-Jan-2009
  DVD: 12-May-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  21-Jan-2009
  DVD: 12-May-2009


Directed by
  Terence Davies

Written by
  Terence Davies

Cast
  (documentary)



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