“Of Time and the City” is not a movie, in the proper sense of the word. It’s not even a documentary, exactly. Really, it’s a visual poem, which I guess could also be a misleading term, since we often refer to movies as “poetic” or “lyrical.” But this is something different – instead of a poetic film, it’s a cinematic poem. I was struck by a sense, in the middle of it, that the perfect presentation of “Time and the City” would not be in a dark cinema, but in a college lecture hall, with director/writer/narrator Terence Davies speaking the narration in front of, not behind, the images. The way I used to go see poets read in college.
It’s a rumination on Liverpool, the town of Davies’ youth and young adulthood. Davies’ narration is, for certain, quite lyrical, and he often borrows bits and pieces from other poets – Joyce, Shakespeare, Morris. He rails against the Church, the Queen, and the Beatles, but is not afraid to be silent in front of the images. The music verges on churchy – classical and choral arrangements that I suppose are meant to feel holy and sacred, juxtaposed against images of dirty children and old women peeling potatoes.
There’s going to be only a small audience for a film like this. It will be the kind of people who buy and read poetry, who can name the current Poet Laureate of wherever they live, and who attend poetry readings not held at bookstores. If this is you, you will love this film. If not, you might want to take a pass and choose a “real” movie instead.