Directed By: Terence Davies
Starring: Terence Davies
Line from this film: "If Liverpool did not exist, it would have to be invented"
Trivia: Won for Best Documentary at the 2009 Australian Film Critics Association Awards
The trailer for Terence Davies’ 2008 documentary Of Time and the City refers to the film as “A love song and a eulogy for the city of Liverpool”. This sums the movie up perfectly. it’s a love song in that it pays tribute to the town its director grew up in, showing images from a time when he called this UK city his home; and it’s a memorial to an age that now exists solely in one’s nostalgic recollections, a time that has vanished, never to return.
Narrated by Davies himself, who helmed such films as 2000’s The House of Mirth and The Deep Blue Sea in 2011, Of Time and the City combines still photographs, home movies, and modern-day footage of the city’s landscapes (including St. George’s Hall and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King) to compose what is, in the end, a very personal journey through Liverpool’s past, with the director focusing almost exclusively on the era of his youth, the 1950’s and ‘60s. “Here was my whole world”, he says over pictures from that period, which, for him, was all about “Home, school, the movies, and God”. He was 15 when he fell in love with the cinema, a time he says was also taken up by wrestling matches at Liverpool Stadium (alongside shots of stars like Gregory Peck, Of Time and the City treats us to a black and white wrestling bout). To coincide with its stunning imagery, the movie offers literary and historical quotes from the likes of Carl Jung and James Joyce (which Davies mixes in with his narration), and music ranging from classical (Gustav Mahler) to pop (Peggy Lee), all blended together to make Of Time and the City as much a work of art as it is a document of the past.
Yet not even nostalgia can wipe the slate completely clean. As Davies reveals, this era had its share of problems as well, including the strict, often oppressive doctrine of the Catholic church (“As far as I knew”, Davies says at one point, “Mother Church still wanted me, but I no longer wanted her”); the Korean War (scenes of which play over The Hollies’ 1969 hit, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”); and, perhaps most troubling of all, the discrimination that disguised itself as the law of the land (Davies recalls the arrest of 2 gay men in London, who, during their trial, were chastised by the Judge for committing “an act of gross indecency”, which was made worse, he said, because it occurred under one of the city’s “most beautiful bridges”). Still, the filmmaker harbors fond memories of this period, and focuses on those things that were vital to him and his upbringing, often at the expense of what history tells us is important (no movie about Liverpool would be complete without The Beatles, but Davies dedicates no more than a minute or two to the band, leading us to believe their impact on pop culture was much stronger than their influence on him personally).
While the images on display in Of Time and the City are, indeed, gorgeous, the city itself, as seen in the film, is far from elegant. An industrial town brimming with poverty, its streets lined with decaying buildings and graffiti-filled walls, Liverpool clearly wasn’t the ideal place to grow up, yet it was the only home Davies knew. It may not have been perfect, but if Of Time and the City is to be believed, he cherishes the experience of his youth, and that’s something we can all relate to in one way or another.