The great days of cinema are not over: they live on in Terence Davies, writes Peter Hoskin
How to write about the cinema of Terence Davies? Words just don’t stand a chance. I could deploy every superlative going, and reduce every one of the three short films and five feature films he’s directed into their constituent parts — a dash of low-key acting here, some liquid camera movements there — but nothing could convey or explain the unique emotional power they have. Quite simply, his films need to be seen and experienced. And preferably on the silver screen, so the magic can really take hold.
It’s fortunate, then, that the fifth of those feature films — Of Time and the City, a documentary about Liverpool — is about to be released into cinemas. Like the earlier Terence Davies Trilogy (1976–83) and the two remarkable features Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992), it is also an autobiography of sorts. After all, Davies was himself born in Liverpool (in 1945), grew up there, and shot the majority of his work on its streets and among its houses.
He has a natural affinity for the city. Or, rather, he has a natural affinity for the city as it was in the 1940s and 1950s — the period of his childhood. He hasn’t lived there since the early 1970s, and the Liverpool that he commits to celluloid is from those bygone times. It no longer exists. As he put it to me, ‘Liverpool is my imagined country now…’
Davies pieces together his imagined country from memory. The various photographs and clips of old documentary footage used throughout Of Time and the City were selected because they chimed with how he remembers Liverpool; a city of smiles, slums, tower-blocks, bunting, songs, docks and hard, hard graft.