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Gay filmmaker Terence Davies talks about his ode to his childhood love of Liverpool, Of Time and the City.

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. 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!"

Did you ever learn Polari and speak it with friends? No. You can only get away with that if you're Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick. If you do it in real life, it sounds really rather sad.

I'd love to take a Polari language course. Oh God, don't!

What was the toughest archival material to locate? It wasn't so much what was difficult as what to leave out. There was a huge amount of archival material. We went through the material on two occasions and it took an entire day to get through it.

What is your fondest memory from your Liverpool days? There was a rich street life. When you've got nothing you tend to live in the street and have nothing together. But I suppose what I miss most is the fact that within walking distance of my house there were eight cinemas, and another eight in town. It was so wonderful. There was always something interesting to watch -- always. I miss having that abundance of cinemas.

How do you feel about Liverpool when you visit it today? The city I knew is largely gone. It's a city of my mind, my imagination. But everywhere I go there are memories, so that makes it difficult. But also most of the places I knew have been pulled down.

I was there in November and it seems a city in the process of being reinvented and updated -- I visited the Catholic Church-turned-restaurant, which was pretty glamorous. The Alma de Cuba. It's been very well done.

You and Derek Jarman were both part of the British Queer Cinema wave. Do you see many parallels between your careers? Stylistically he was doing something completely different, but I think there are two things we had in common: We're both gay, and he had a very good sense of humor and so do I. He was a life-enhancer. He really was. He was so full of life and generous, a lovely man. I can't say I'm a life-enhancer, although I try to be.

You're working on a romantic comedy right now. You bet! It's a romantic comedy set in the present day in London and Paris in fashion magazines, and it ends with a happy ending. Knowing me, I'll put a subtitle on the end: "You're all gonna die!" [Laughs]

Last year's documentary about Jarman, Derek, sparked conversations regarding how the U.K. Film Council had shifted its focus from art to commerce, and how many important British films weren't being preserved or available to the public, yet anything "high-octane" with gangsters is being promoted and funded. Your thoughts on the situation and how your own work is being treated? This obsession with box office, and I'm not anti-American, but we are being subsumed by American culture. We look for validation, both culturally and politically, towards the USA when really we should look towards Europe, because that's where our future lies. More and more we're trying to be like Hollywood and we can't do it. Those things make an indigenous British cinema much more difficult. I'm patriotic only in the sense I want us to make films about stories that arise naturally from these islands. There is no point in making gangster films because we can't do it properly. They are just silly. That does not go to say you should not make films that are purely entertaining. There's nothing wrong with that presuming they're well made. But we are in this thrall to your country. If we go on like this, in 20 years' time we'll be like Hawaii but with lousy weather.

If you remade your cycle of autobiographical films today, would you make them more explicitly gay? If I was making them now, I wouldn't get the money for them.

Would you consider making a film about your adult years? God forbid! That's even more depressing than the trilogy! [Laughs] I've never reconciled myself to being gay. It has really ruined my life. I can't accept it, and so I'm celibate. But I get enormous solace from the music of Bruckner, the poetry of Eliot, the sonnets of Shakespeare, and Emily Dickinson. I have very good friends whom I love and are very supportive. Perhaps in the end that's all one can hope for. I write poetry, which gives me enormous pleasure, and every now and then when you feel a bit low you put on something like Singin' in the Rain, which is the first film I saw, at 7. You just think, Oh, it is worthwhile after all!

Have there been any relationships during your life? No, I've never had a relationship. I'm celibate. I'm not good-looking, I don't have a good body. No one's ever been interested, so it's best to stay home and [hold on to] your dignity, I think.

I feel the age of the Internet has changed that, because no matter what you are, from skinny geek to bear to superchub to daddy, there's a website where someone is looking for you. I don't believe that, you see. But I've been celibate for so long, I have to say I wouldn't know what to do anyway if someone wanted to go to bed with me. I'm so sad! [Laughs]

I think you'd find matches online. Some gays read Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky and Miller plays. But they only read them for the jokes!

Can you enjoy other filmmakers' gay-themed films? Have you watched much queer cinema in recent years? Not really. I don't really go to the cinema. I've lost my ability to suspend my disbelief. That comes with making films. There's one way of curing a hobby and that's doing it for a living. When you're conscious of the cuts, people acting, it's very difficult, almost impossible. Musician friends of mine can't go to concerts. It's like that. I can't suspend my disbelief anymore.

Your films are mostly quite melancholy. Was life on set as sullen between takes, or was there a jovial mood when not shooting? I always try to have a laugh. You've got to have a laugh. The people who do the most damage in the world are those with no sense of humor. We're all doing a job we love and getting paid for it and that's wonderful, and I do love to have a laugh. Obviously if you're doing a serious film, when you do the takes of course you're serious, but I do like to have a lighthearted atmosphere.

If someone goes to Liverpool today, what is the one thing they must see or do? Go and see the St. Georges Hall. It's considered the greatest neoclassical building in the world. It's absolutely fabulous. Once a year in the Great Hall they take up the floor and it's all Minton tiles. They've got everything there. The courts the way they were in the 19th century, this beautiful little concert hall. It's breathtaking.

And should they try Liverpool's famed scouse stew? Yes, it's very good. It was brought over by the Irish and all it is is a stew. When I was growing up, if there was no meat to put in it, we called it blind scouse [because you didn't see any meat]!

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