O: Of Time and the City (2008)

Of Time and The City 1Ah Terence Davies, should we be surprised that such a filmmaker’s work appears once again on this blog dedicated to high caliber movie-making? Although strictly speaking not a traditional feature film, nor even a conventional documentary, Davies’ “Of Time and the City” is a beautifully lyrical example of poetic storytelling, told from the exceptionally personal and introspective viewpoint of the director himself. Growing up as a poor child in what were known as the slums of Liverpool, Davies charts his life in the city, from the early years of innocence as a young yet often self-doubting child, to his days spent in the Roman Catholic Church as a young man and eventually onwards into the world of the soon-to-be swinging 1960’s.

Davies’ approach with the quotation of specific texts that serve as narration are wonderfully overlaid with the numerous footage shot by the local inhabitants of Liverpool from the period. The emotional sense of nostalgia is one he most certainly wishes us as an audience to allow ourselves to be entertained by, however the main focus from his own perspective is never lost in the translation. With his dry delivery of such text, Davies does not generate sympathy nor compassion from his own vocal performance, but when edited with the richly saturated footage used to show a Liverpool from times long gone do we then as a viewer appreciate the melancholy Davies himself suffered whilst growing up

Liverpool’s ups and downs from the time are shown to us without the slightest hint of censorship; much of the stock footage I will assume comes from news broadcasts, family events, as well as documentary film from the period. The portrait such a combination of images paints is one of self-imposed apathy from the inhabitants of a such a historically rich city. Such emotions could almost be linked to apathetical despair if one allows the social and infrastructural decline to go beyond the poetry Davies has sewn into this material. The streets and slums of the city’s stagnating environment leave an eventual bitterness to those who care about such things. For those who don’t the transformation that Liverpool underwent and still continues to do so to this day can act as a visual beacon for Britain’s declining industrial landscape, particularly before the throws of Thatcherism made such changes a necessity.

Time is indeed such a powerful factor in Davies creation here. The distant memories of those loved ones long passed echo within the frames of the beautifully captured footage, becoming truly haunting. Moments frozen forever on celluloid echo in each sequence as we journey with the director closer and closer to the so called “Present”. City‘s climax may follow the more typically British motifs in its skeptical optimism for Liverpool’s future, but the journey we undertake with this illustrious filmmaker is more than worth such an emotional price. As a piece of introspective history it excels as a rare glimpse into the lives of the ‘ordinary’ in a city steeped with changing culture. As a work of art it cleverly combines the poetics of Davies’ script with the artistry of home-grown footage. As an ode to life, Of Time and the City successfully cultivates a diversely emotional map for any viewer to find something relatable. Davies’ trick is that you end up with nearly doing so in everything shown.

That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again. - Alfred Edward Housman

Alfred Edward Housman: That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain. The happy highways where I went, and cannot come again. 

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