I have just finished watching Terence Davies inspiring Of Time and the City, a poetic montage of archival footage of the Liverpool of his memory. Davies was born a working class catholic into poverty in Liverpool in 1945 and left in 1973. The film charts in a very subjective way the ‘history’ of Liverpool in that era.
As well as archive there is a voiceover which also uses quotes and poetry, both Davies own, Shelley and an excerpt from Eliot’s Four Quartets amoung others. There is an almost ecstatic surrender to memory and the emotional impact of human endurance in the face of hardship.
There is both the power of the individual experience and the broader meditation on time, the city and human experience.
It makes a wonderful companion piece (as well as standing alone) to Davies previous fictional excavations of his childhood; The Terence Davies Trilogy; Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes.
In the interview which is part of the DVD extras –( Making of ; Interview w/Davies and Humphrey Jennings’ “Listen to Britain”) Davies talks of his shock at seeing the conditions in the slums, despite having been born into them. I haven’t yet listened to his introduction to Listen to Britain but remember that in Jenning’s later “Diary for Timothy” he talks of the luck of Timothy to be born in Britain but not the slums of Glasgow or Liverpool. (These were two of the main centres of the Irish in Britain)
It’s such a wonderful thing to see such personal documentary cinema, with ideas thrown out without glossaries or celebrity comment. It would be great to see more filmmakers of similar distinction tackle their own personal landscapes. Jim Sheridan’s Dublin; Neil Jordan’s Sligo; Aki Kaurismaki’s Helsinki; Scorsese’s New York etc etc
It also makes the case for more archive footage to be made freely available to filmmakers. Shorter copyright period, fair use agreements and publicly funded footage having an even shorter copyright period would be a start. It always seems crazy to me that it is often more expensive to use archive footage than shoot new footage. It would help the exploration of our recent history and the often illusory idea of progress.