Let’s hope the drought is over. Following the shameful neglect of his last two features, The Neon Bible and The House Of Mirth, it’s been nearly 10 years since Terence Davies has managed to find funding for any of his projects. But the enthused reaction at Cannes to Of Time And The City, a cinematic ode to his native Liverpool, may herald a long-overdue return for one of our finest and most individual filmmakers.
Of Time... isn’t easy to classify. Documentary? Not really. Tribute? Hardly. Davies himself cites the cinematic poetry of the great Humphrey Jennings (Listen To Britain, Fires Were Started), which maybe comes closest. Like Jennings, Davies has the knack of taking found footage (only a fraction of this film was actually shot by him) and turning it into something utterly distinctive and personal.
His wry voiceover commentary – at once nostalgic and disillusioned – takes us through the post-war history of the city and reflects (in his own words) on “the nature of time, of mortality and the transience of life”.
Fans of Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes will note the preoccupations: Catholicism (“Years wasted in useless prayer”), guilt-ridden gayness, the glamour of the movies. A wealth of music also enriches the film, sometimes supporting the images, sometimes in ironic counterpoint: from Handel and Liszt to Ewan McColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’ and Peggy Lee’s ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’.
Quotes from Engels, Jung and Shelley; deft similes (“Radios as small and brown as Hovis”); caustic sideswipes at the monarchy; and sour observations mix with evocative footage of slums and demolitions, of street laundries, of ballroom dancing and the Aintree races.
And all for £250,000. Now will someone please fund the man to direct another feature?