Of Time and the City

Cannes Film Fest 2008 (Special Screening)–Terence Davies's richly textured memoir “Of Time and City,” an elegiac remembrance of his life in Liverpool, is a beautifully assembled collage of archival footage and photographs, linked by sardonic narration about the city and his personal growth there. Part photo album, part confessional, Davies' journey through his past is marked by a witty, irreverent, and playful tone.

Suitably timed to coincide with Liverpool's Year as European Capital of Culture, “Of Time and the City” is a lyrical poem about his hometown, this is (surprisingly) Davies' first movie in eight years. His approach renders a moving portrait both the city and himself as a filmmaker.  He begins with a quote from Myrbach: “If Liverpool did not exist, it would have to be invented.”  What ensues is an intimate look at how the city transformed from the 1940s to the 1960s, during which Davies came of age and began making movies; he left Liverpool in 1973.

Though impressionistic, the portrait that comes across rings true and honest. There's some harrowing WWII footage as well as a report of Davies' struggle with his sexuality as a Catholic boy. Among other things, the film deals with fears of aging and obsession with mortality

The director's sharp tongue us revealed in his poignant commentary about class-oriented British society, the monarchy, the English way of pomp style, all at the expense of the working class whose socio-economic conditions have worsened over the years, evident in the grim urban situation. When the film switches to contemporary images of the presumably rejuvenated city, Davies asks the question, “Where are you, the Liverpool I loved”

This mixture of documentary footage, raw emotions and open personality accounts for a unique type of film that offers insight into the ever-changing city as well as the ever-changing artist himself.  Asked what he wanted to achieve in this film, Davies says, “Even though I'm a very pessimistic person, I believe that it's worth striving to be a better person. Better, not better off.  That's just vanity. I want to say that it is worth going on.”

Davies' culturally informed narration includes quotes, poetry readings, personal memories, segments from radio plays and carefully chosen songs, such as The Spinners' “Dirty Old Town.”  For the most part, the soundtrack is interesting, including Sir John Tavener's “The Protecting Veil,” which is charged with hope, or the more sentimental “He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.”

While “Of Time and the City” is expectedly a subjective memoir, there have been other cinematic works that have paid tribute to major cities, such as the anthology “Paris, je t'aime” (shown in Cannes Film Fest), “Fellini's Roma” in 1971, and the 1927 silent film “Berlin: Symphony of a Big City,” helmed by Walter Rutmann, on which Fred Zinnemann and other future Hollywood directors had worked.