Archive for Of Time and the City

Right city, wrong time

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on June 30, 2008 by dcairns

One of my larger incompetencies during the festival was missing the screening of OF TIME AND THE CITY, Terence Davies’ new documentary, which is serving to remind everybody what a great filmmaker, and personality, he is. But, despite missing the screening and Mr. Davies himself, nevertheless, gentle ShadowplayersI did not fail you.

A Videotheque is a special room designed for watching films under whatever the opposite of “optimum viewing conditions” is. Despite the cool name, there’s usually no dancing. You have a TV and a DVD player and a set of headphones and you’re surrounded by other people similarly equipped. It’s like being at home, only uncomfortable. Actually, home isn’t always comfortable either, especially last night when Fiona, suffering from a killer migraine, accidentally threw a live cat into my face. But there was something strangely appropriate about watching PRIMITIVE LONDON with blood tricking down my chin.

The E.I.F.F. videotheque is located in the shiny bowels of The Point Conference Centre, which looks like an office building out of Tati’s PLAYTIME, all metallic sheen and inhumanity. Adding a welcome note of the organic was regular Shadowplayer Kristin Loeer, who was running the place. Kris and her team sorted me out with various movies I’d been too slack or drowsy to catch on the big screen.

(This is part of why you should never trust professional film reviewers, who won’t tell you if they saw the stuff projected as it should be, or on a poxy monitor inside a strange metal box administered by Germans. And I can’t recall the last time Armond White admitted his viewing of, say, the latest Dardennes brothers opus had been marred by a flying cat gashing his lip.)










The movie, a portrait of Liverpool mainly through archive material, is very attentive to signs and graffiti. Narrated by Davies himself, whose sonorous, rich voice I’ve always admired (it’s how I remember my childhood G.P. Dr. Robertson sounding) this is a moving, passionate, sometimes angry and always poetic vision of a city I normally don’t care anything about, but which is brought to life like a richly textured yet unbelievably screwed-up movie character — perhaps a cross between Auntie Mame and the bad lieutenant.

The use of found footage, and its relationship to the V.O., is often startlingly beautiful. As Davies muses on the vacuum of the great British Sunday afternoon, in which children of both our generations were bored to distraction by a complete lack of anything to do, he shows a little girl skipping across a patch of waste ground, then abruptly stopping as if she’s just realised she’s surrounded by the bleakest stretch of nothingness in Britain.

The movie’s also often funny, with Davies leavening his aching nostalgia with cynicism re the coronation of Elizabeth II (“Street parties were held to celebrate the start of The Betty Windsor Show”) and the Catholic church, whose influence dominated Davies’ youth (“Pope Clitoris the Umpteenth”). There’s also highly emotive music, both popular and operatic, and many many quotations. CARRY ON fans will be pleased to hear Kenneth Williams on the soundtrack (the camp “Julian and Sandy as lawyers” bit from radio’s Round the Horne: “We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of out time.”)

The quotes are probably the riskiest strategy, because unlike Godard, Davies is very fond of rather familiar lines, like Ozymandias, and that stuff about the “blue remembered hills”. But it’s such a uniquely personal documentary that this seems fine — Davies “blue remembered hills” are his own, not Dennis Potter’s. And Davies has always been a populist without a popular audience. The sheer misfortune of coming along during a weird bit of British film history has bracketed him amid the artsy, when he desperately wants to address regular folks, to whom he has much to say.

OF TIME AND THE CITY will undoubtedly play many festivals and do well on British T.V. (which should be throwing money at Davies to make dramas — socially accurate, non-aspirational, poetic work has always formed the bulk of quality British television), but the real hope is that it will allow him to make another cinema film.

In its own right, it’s a marvellous example of just that, and hopefully an appetizer for what comes next.


One cappuccino, one latte, one black

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2008 by dcairns

MC Charmer

Coffee with Fiona and the ever-charming Mark Cousins. He was fresh from prostrating himself at the feet of Terence Davies in Cannes, where Davies’ new documentary, OF TIME AND THE CITY, had reduced him to tears. He says he’s found himself tearing up almost every time he’s tried to discuss the film since. He and Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw were chatting about it after the screening and neither could hold back their tears. That must have been quite a scene. But I bet it has the same effect when it plays Edinburgh.

Apparently both Davies’ unmade drama projects now have a bit of heat again, after his Cannes success. Even French critics who were not overly familiar with Davies were blown away by it.

I’m reminded of Mitchell Leisen’s TO EACH HIS OWN. It ends abruptly at its emotional peak, and audiences were staggering from the cinema, blinded with tears, crashing into the walls and each other and generally gashing their heads and knees. Cinema proprietors contacted Leisen and begged him to add thirty seconds of nothingness, chatter or additional end credits to the film just to allow patrons to compose themselves. His response: “No.”

Mark is now well into the production of his eight-hour television version of The Story of Film. The book comes with a quote from Sean Connery. I remember reading it: “Mark Cousins is incapable of writing anything about cinema -” at which point I thought, “Hang on… That’s not very nice!” but the Great Man goes on, “- without making it fascinating.” I mentioned this to Mark one time and he said that when Connery dictated the quote over the phone, he actually paused at just that point. “The cheeky monkey.”

Hume Condish

My mercenary purpose in dragging Mark across town for this meeting was to extract from him copies of the rare and out-of-print THE HUMAN CONDITION trilogy by Shadowplay favourite Masaki Kobayashi, which I successfully did, so I’ll be writing about those beauties as soon as I’ve watched all nine hours.

Nine hours???!!!

Mark bought the films years ago on the advice of a friend who described them as the greatest film/s ever. The fact that Volumes 2 and 3 of Mark’s set are still shrink-wrapped strongly suggests that Mark did not share this view…

But he very kindly encouraged me to take my blogging skills, whatever they may be, into the more lucrative world of the printed page, and advised me on whom to approach. So, now I need to think about what kind of film book I would write. Any suggestions?