Pin It

Terence Davies Returns

The director's first film in over eight years "Of Time and the City" is a documentary that explores Liverpool's history through archive footage.

Directed by Terence Davies, “Of Time and the City” has been hailed as a poetic masterpiece by many and is the director’s first film in over eight years. The documentary explores Liverpool’s history through a montage of archive footage juxtaposed with Davies’ present day footage. Davies’ personal account of the city explores the themes of modernity, religion, and post-war society with unrelenting sincerity.

Dazed Digital: What is “Of Time and the City” fundamentally about?
Terence Davies: Well really it’s a subjective essay about the city that I grew up in, which is Liverpool. I was born in 1945 and I left in 1973. So it was contrasting that city that I knew, which has now gone, with the new city that I don’t know at all now. It was really a personal essay about those two things and about memory and time. It was also about rediscovering my own memories, I’d forgotten how bad the slums were, which was shocking.

DD: The predominant themes of your films appear to be religion and sexuality. Why are they so important in your film-making?
TD: It’s a really pernicious religion Catholicism because it imbues in you so much guilt and is unforgiving of human frailty. Frailty is seen as sin and I’m still coming to terms with that. I examine my conscience every day, I’m always doing it because that’s the way I was brought up although I haven’t believed for forty years, I gave up when I was twenty-two. As far as sexuality is concerned when I was growing up homosexuality was a criminal offence. Until 1967 you could go to prison, and I thought well I’m not going to prison and I’ve never come to terms with it. I decided then and there that I was probably going to be celibate and I actually have been. But even just on a normal level if I was going to be straight I think I wouldn’t be any good at sex either because I’m too self conscious. I notice things like if someone’s got holes in their socks and it makes me feel terribly depressed – and I don’t know why.

DD: What were your filmic influences?
TD: Really the template was Humphrey Jennings 1942 documentary “Listen to Britain”. Its only 19mins long but it’s really the first great documentary poem that captures the nature of Britishness .It was my template because it’s not linear its impressionistic, it’s not about memories as such, its just purely impressionist. I’m not interested in what happened next because that’s not interesting. I’ve always been more interested in what happened emotionally next because that’s something which is visceral and its associative, like music is. Poetry and music have always been great influences on me. I discovered T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” in 1962 and that’s been a huge influence on me as well as symphonic music to get that sense of structure that is both abstract and concrete.

DD: “Of Time and the City” seems to resemble the work of Bruce Weber were you directly influenced by any of his films?
TD: I’ve never seen any of Bruce Weber’s work. I very rarely go to the cinema anymore I cannot suspend my disbelief. I’m afraid the magic has gone out of it for me.

DD: What have you been working on for the last 8 years?
TD: It was very difficult to get anyone interested in this film at all until Digital Departures of which I’m very grateful. What this lack of interest does more than anything else is destroy your self confidence. That’s the hardest thing of all, when twenty-five year olds who know nothing at all tell you how to write a script or how to improve it, its very difficult not to say how many scripts have you written? How many scripts have you directed and delivered on time? There’s really nothing worse than ignorance aligned with arrogance it really is the way tyrants get into power.

DD: I sense a certain amount of animosity towards both modernity and the Royal Family in “Of Time and the City”…
TD: The monarchy is by nature undemocratic and parasitic and when normal people were living in the conditions that they were living in when she (Elizabeth) was sent to the throne and to do nothing about it is nothing short of scandalous yet it’s looked upon with this king of nauseating sentimentality in England. They are useless all of them, utterly useless alive or dead. The sooner we become a republic the better as far as I’m concerned and how anyone can actually accept honours from that institution and not realise just how meaningless they are is quite astounding.
I have no idea what postmodernism means. I’m afraid of the present because I think in many ways it is less rich but what I do like to see is that people are more discerning about food and wine and they are ordinary people, they are not rich. I also love the fact that a lot of young people are very very tolerant in a way which wouldn’t have been conceivable fifty years ago.

DD: Do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to documentary filmmaking?
TD: For me it’s the poetry of the ordinary, ordinary people have poetry. You don’t have to be middle class or upper class to actually experience this, it has to be just as valid as anybody else’s poetry and yes I suppose I rather do revere those people. The one person in “Of Time and the City” who upsets me the most is the lady who goes to the wash house and says “My mother died on Christmas Eve, my husband never worked, I have two small children, and my father died. But God has been very good to me.”, It’s said with such sincerity it breaks your heart and I think that people like that deserve to be celebrated because they are real and they’ve earnt their place on the planet, which is more than can be said for Betty Windsor.

Of Time and the City is out on general release now.