Review: Of Time and the City

Of Time and the City screenshot

Year: 2008 | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

You know, it’s a funny thing: Counting the “Terence Davies trilogy” (1983) as one film, I have now seen four of Terence Davies’ films, and they all portray more or less the same story of growing up in Liverpool in the ’40s and ’50s, struggling with the ever-looming guilt and repression of Catholicism, and coping with being a gay man at a time when it was very socially unacceptable to be homosexual. You would think, then, that by the time Of Time and the City was released in 2008, telling the same story over and over again in different ways would have grown tiresome, but it hadn’t; every single one of Davies’ autobiographical works are gripping, provocative and thought-provoking in their own unique ways, and they are all exquisite.

In Of Time and the City, Davies drops the pretense of using a fictional character to tell his own story and simply narrates it himself; set over archive footage of his hometown of Liverpool over the decades with a characteristically classical music-heavy score, Davies takes us once again through his difficult upbringing in lower-class post-war Britain. But where in his narrative films, the anger, bitterness and cynicism toward the Church and conservative society are present mostly through subtext, here Davies lets it all out with biting commentary that is in turns startling, philosophical, harrowing and humorous. It feels strange to say considering how clearly and famously autobiographical his early films are, but at the same time, it’s a no-brainer: because this is a documentary, there’s more of the real Davies present here than in his other films, and as such, this is his most personal film that I’ve seen.

But as ever-present as the trauma of his upbringing may be, it’s clear throughout Of Time and the City that Davies nonetheless still holds a soft spot for his home city, or at least the city as he knew it decades ago. Then again, even though he admits to not recognizing the Liverpool of today and “feeling like an alien” in his own city, Davies’ camera nonetheless observes the citizens of modern Liverpool with a warmth and fondness that betrays the remorse and longing for the days of old in his narration. And it’s this nostalgic love of the city that saves Of Time and the City from being simply a collection of ramblings of a bitter old queen, so to speak (fellow gays, you know exactly the type that I’m talking about).

As with every one of Davies’ films that I’ve seen thus far, this is a film that refuses to be pinned down by one specific theme or over-arching tone. Like life, it’s a complex portrayal of a time both missed and gladly left in the past, of a city both loved and hated, of a life both fulfilled and full of regret. Of Time and the City is a film that if not embraces, then at least accepts, the gray areas of life and encourages the viewer to do the same.

I think that I may be falling in love with Terence Davies as a filmmaker. As such, it’s very difficult for me to say if Of Time and the City is his best film that I’ve seen to date, but I’m also not prepared to say that it’s not. One thing I know for sure is that it’s unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen before, and I could listen to Davies’ calm and soothing voice talk about his past for hours on end. If you’ve got an hour and a quarter to spare, there are much worse ways to spend it.

Language: English
Genre: Documentary
Runtime: 1 hr. 14 min.
Rating: Not Rated

Director: Terence Davies
Starring: Terence Davies

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