OF TIME AND THE CITY – Digital Beta video A-
The golden moments pass, and leave no trace. —Anton Chekhov
Davies’ passionate documentary about his hometown of Liverpool, England is given a scorchingly personal view, blending superb archival footage with his own acerbic thoughts that he narrates, reading literary passages, poems, and using an exceptional musical soundtrack to punctuate his feelings. Sometimes movies have the effect of speaking to you as if you’re the only person in the room. This film has that effect. Interesting that the writers are acknowledged throughout the film, but not the many poets who are fully integrated into the Davies narrative. Do not miss the opening segment which is a marvel of invention, as the director lures us into his world Of Time and the City: A love song and a eulogy YouTube (6:28), which at least initially resembles other British war documentaries of the 40’s like Humphrey Jennings LISTEN TO BRITAIN (1942) which depict a country uniting under a common cause despite obvious social deprivation. But then we are introduced to his distinctly erudite voice, like a raspy call from beyond the grave where we hear him speak of darkness and God, as if we spend our lives learning to differentiate between the two. Davies was a devout Catholic where the ideology of the church was not so much a religion as an imposed indoctrination, an imprinted way of life from which he could not waver, where he may as well have been born into piety. But as he familiarizes himself with literary works and observes the trappings of the world failing to live up to those high standards, doubting the existence of God appears to be among the first places he started.
At times bitingly sarcastic, yet exquisitely to the point, Davies appears to be having a rollicking good time (at our expense) with his recollections from his own life, like the touch of a boy beside him, the sweaty warmth coming from the enormous bodies of male wrestlers, the sins of the flesh accompanied by a repressed society around him where homosexuality was illegal in Britain during the 50’s, recounting in humor a judge's definitive description of horror when sentencing two male lovers, his immersion into cinema that perhaps replaced his interest in the church, his developing love of literature, and after hearing no divine call from the darkness, his descent into atheism. Davies paints a portrait of a once thriving working class city whose status is elevated by the religious overtones of John Taverner’s “The Protecting Veil.” John Tavener - The Protecting Veil - YouTube (6:48). But he also shows endless rows of graffiti-laden tenement buildings where children play amidst the brokendown rubble of cracked concrete. Davies mocks the inane immorality of such extravagant wealth spent on the British royal family while England contains some of the worst slums in all of Europe, while Peggy Lee sings to the lush, romantic tones of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.” Of Time and the City -- The Folks who Live on the Hill YouTube (3:36).
Perhaps his biggest ire is reserved for how it was all thrown away, how the beauty and splendor and grandiosity of art and architecture and the idea of a fraternal community of man was turned into images of factory workers going to work in the dirtiest, grimiest parts of town, where filth and factories were joined by housing projects and uniformly tasteless concrete monstrosities all of which rapidly decayed and in no time turned into rot and ruin, leaving behind no trace of the city he once loved. Of course, the Beatles and the Hollies were from Liverpool, where the song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” Of Time and the City -- He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother YouTube (2:37) plays to images of uniformed soldiers lined up in columns marching off to yet another war, a taunt actually to the pervasive feeling after the collective international effort of fighting a war that would end all wars when all men were considered brothers and how the song was mangled into incomprehensible sentiment by the sudden popularity of rock “n” roll which he disliked immensely (eventually leaving Liverpool in 1973), where he was driven away by pop music directly into classical where he discovered Mahler’s “every overwrought note.” Gorgeously interweaving images of everlasting immortality among those of ruin and decay, Davies uses the sublime beauty of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (“Resurrection”) Gustav Mahler - Urlicht - YouTube (5:08), an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world, where we hear the last faint earthly echo, the song of a nightingale, a hushed quiet before the final spiritual transcendence is transformed into a chorale of radiant glory that overwhelms and enthralls. Davies does an excellent job dealing with his own wrath, the bitter pill of being human, finding cinematic expression that reaches a lofty plateau through its own intellect and self examination, a classic cinematic essay that exalts in its timeless status.