BY Lawrence Ferber
February 06 2009 1:00 AM ET
After mining his
youth and family life in the autobiographical
masterworks The Terence Davies Trilogy
(1976-83), Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988),
and The Long Day Closes (1992), out U.K.
filmmaker Terence Davies returned one last time to his
Liverpool roots and memories with Of Time and the
City, which opened at NYC’s Film Forum on
January 21. An elegiac composition of archival
material, newly shot cityscapes, music, and Davies’s
narration, it is both a nostalgic love letter and an
ultimate farewell to a past and place riddled with
pain, warmth, and first struggles with sexuality
(Catholic guilt and emerging/repressed homosexuality are
frequent themes in Davies’s work).
Born in 1945 in
Liverpool, Davies kicked off his career as an actor
during the 1970s, but transitioned to director with his
first short film, 1976’s Children.
Regarded as one of the United Kingdom's most
influential, important filmmakers of the 20th century,
Davies went on to craft 1995’s The Neon
Bible (adapted from John Kennedy Toole’s book)
and 2000’s acclaimed The House of Mirth,
adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel and starring
a boldface Hollywood cast (including Gillian Anderson
and Laura Linney). Currently awaiting a green light on a
21st-century romantic comedy set in London and Paris, Davies
discussed his final cinematic foray into his past, the
late Derek Jarman, the current state of U.K. film,
and, having been terminally single his entire life,
whether he might finally find romantic and sexual happiness
through the Internet.
Advocate.com:How would you set up Of Time and the City
for someone unfamiliar with Liverpool and its history?
Is any exposition necessary?Terence Davies: I really can’t answer that
because I made it clear, when I was given the money to do
it, that it would be a subjective essay. I can only
tell you what other people have said to me, and the
movie has seemed to catch a kind of zeitgeist. People
from all over the world have said, "Oh, I’ve seen my
childhood on-screen." It seems to have prompted people
to think of their own lives and childhoods, or their
parents. But my intentions were really modest. My
template was [the 1941 film] Listen to Britain
by Humphrey Jennings. It’s a 90-minute poem trying to
capture the nature of being British. I was trying to
capture the nature of what it was like to be
Liverpudlian and growing up in that city, which made a
huge impact on me.
You include a fantastic audio clip of the BBC radio
show Round the Horne, which featured iconic gay
British actors camping it up in the secret gay
language, Polari. Can you talk about that
phenomenon for a moment? [Laughs] They were loved in the late
1950s and early '60s, but no one knew what they meant.
They just thought they were funny. Listening to them
again brought such joy back to me, because on a Sunday at 2
p.m. you could open your window and hear that the
whole of England was listening to Julian and Sandy.
They were pretty saucy, even if it was all code and insinuation. Yes, they were very saucy. Someone wrote in to
the BBC saying, "I think it’s filthy." The
controller at BBC asked for a script, read it, and
wrote back to her saying, "Not only is it not filthy,
it’s not funny either!"