Friday, November 07, 2008

OF TIME AND THE CITY - cheeky? Miserable more like.

OF TIME AND THE CITY is a mean-sprited, curmudgeonly, visually uninspiring documentary from British auteur Terence Davies. Over the years he has produced beautifully framed, highly personal movies about his youth as a homosexual Catholic working-class boy in post-war Liverpool. But where DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES finely balances fond memory and grim reality, OF TIME AND THE CITY is simply a litany of snide criticism of his native city, a city he describes as "anus mundi".

Funded by public money, this documentary was meant to be a thoughtful work about Liverpool past and present - a crumbling industrial town, with a staunch Catholic population, recently regenerated into a vibrant regional centre. How perverse, then, to pick a director who seems to have a deep-seated hatred of both the old and the new Liverpool. Old Liverpool is, according to Davies, a city of crumbling terraced houses; garbage gathering in vacant lots; ration books; religious intolerance and sexual frustration. He sneers at the Beatles - drowning them out with classical music - just as he drowns out his upbringing with his ludicrously affected RP accent. I have rarely heard anything as hateful as his contemptuous "yeah, yeah, yeah". As for contemporary Liverpool he is similarly sneering. He uses the beautifully uplifting lyrics from the Mahler 2, words of hope and ressurection. But against this music he juxtaposes images of modern city life that he evidently finds alienating - multi-story car parks, shopping centres, aerial shots of polished civic architecture cut off from the city by multi-lane highways.

At first I didn't understand why critics had poured praise on such a sour film. I went back and re-read the reviews and realised that they hadn't found it sour at all. Here's Peter Bradshaw - a great critic, writing in The Guardian. "Terence Davies' new a heartfelt and even ecstatic study of Liverpool... the sweetness of its temper...." Sweetness of temper? I'd sooner call her mother a wit.

Don't believe the hype. OF TIME AND THE CITY is no Liverpuddlian

OF TIME AND THE CITY played Cannes, Toronto and London 2008 and is currently on release in the UK. It is released in the US on January 21st.

*Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,in heißem Liebesstreben werd'ich entschweben zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug'gedrungen.

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