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Of Time and the City (2009)



Average Rating: 7.7/10
Reviews Counted: 55
Fresh: 51 | Rotten: 4

Terrence Davies' heartfelt, sometimes funny new feature documentary is part scrapbook, part confessional.


Average Rating: 7.9/10
Critic Reviews: 15
Fresh: 14 | Rotten: 1

Terrence Davies' heartfelt, sometimes funny new feature documentary is part scrapbook, part confessional.



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Average Rating: 3.5/5
User Ratings: 1,967

My Rating

Movie Info

"Of Time and the City" is about filmmaker Terence Davies' past as well as Liverpool's past.



Terence Davies

May 12, 2009

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All Critics (58) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (51) | Rotten (4) | DVD (4)

Terence Davies, England's greatest living filmmaker, has released only six features, and this one is his first documentary, a mesmerizing and eloquent essay about his native Liverpool.

December 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film invites a reverie. It inspired thoughts of the transience of life.

June 18, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Davies has carried out the duty of expansive memoirs. Instead of high-tailing it away from the rigors of reminiscence, he pushes headlong through them.

March 27, 2009 Full Review Source: Denver Post
Denver Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A warm and extremely thoughtful journey, with a deliberately bare-bones narrative.

February 13, 2009 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Of Time and the City is a difficult film to describe but a distinct pleasure to experience.

January 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[A] mesmerizing, visceral and heartfelt, a lushly rendered assembly of colour and black-and-white archival footage that evokes not only a remembrance of things past, but perhaps as they never were.

January 23, 2009 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A visual poem.

March 26, 2011 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

... a wistful, funny, satirical, angry and forgiving portrait.

May 12, 2009 Full Review Source: Parallax View
Parallax View

Like a long, bickering marriage or a favorite pair of well worn out shoes, UK combo filmmaker and nostalgia buff Davies can't seem to resolve his unsettling but addictive love/hate thing with the city that informed his imagination for better or worse.

April 21, 2009 Full Review Source: NewsBlaze

This personal and poetic meditation on England's portside city of Liverpool is a nostalgic journey through archival footage accompanied by an eclectic collection of lyrical ramblings by writer/director Terence Davies.

March 21, 2009 Full Review Source: Screenwize

Terence Davies may be a single-subject filmmaker, with that subject his own life, much as some writers write different versions of the same story. It doesn't matter. It's in the rich and detailed texture of the telling that his art lies.

March 20, 2009 Full Review Source: MovieTime, ABC Radio National
MovieTime, ABC Radio National

It is an undeniably slow film, but there is something enchanting in its pace, as it gradually immerses you in its imagery, its soundtrack and its otherworldly quality.

March 13, 2009 Full Review Source: FILMINK (Australia)
FILMINK (Australia)

Davies is a master of melancholy self-reflection. This film sheds light on where his feature films came from, as much as the city he lost.

March 13, 2009 Full Review Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney Morning Herald

Past and present are summoned up, and contrasted, yet their emotional impact is intermingled in a collage of archival images and footage, and newly filmed material, set against music, sound and the filmmaker's voice.

March 13, 2009 Full Review Source: The Age (Australia)
The Age (Australia)

The filmmaker's passion, coupled with a sly sense of humor, suggest that this is a film that will resonate long after it's over.

March 13, 2009 Full Review Source: At the Movies (Australia)
At the Movies (Australia)

All the images are stunning, but the film's star turns belong to the children who gather on front stoops and play among the city's derelict buildings.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

With this film, Terence Davies proves not only that he can find a story in even a place like Liverpool, but that he can make it poetic and interesting

March 5, 2009 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

... a filmic ode to Liverpool that is both elegiac and cantankerous in the way of all old men looking back.

February 24, 2009 Full Review Source:

The film occasionally achieves beautiful states of reverie.

February 20, 2009 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

The effect of visual movements in Of Time and the City is fantastic. Even as it documents urban life and recalls events, it offers Terence Davies' analyses of the history that has shaped him.

February 6, 2009 Full Review Source: PopMatters

While not quite as imaginative, lively or captivating as My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin's homage to his hometown of Winnipeg, Canada, Of Time and City, at a running time of only 77 minutes, nonetheless manages to be a moderately fascinating, sporadically moving

January 30, 2009 Full Review Source: NYC Movie Guru
NYC Movie Guru

Audience Reviews for Of Time and the City

A visual poem of love and nostalgia. Terrance Davis uses only archive film in this voyage of memory of Liverpool, the city of his birth. It does feel, as it was intended, like a long newsreel people used to watch at the cinema before home televisions but with Davis own honest, wonderful and sometimes poisonous meditations. This isn't just an exercise in sentimentality though, nor is it an essay on why life was better back then. You can't love something without being fearlessly protective of it and Davis's film shows Liverpool's faults as well as its triumphs and isn't afraid to point out the sources. It's hypnotic, splendid and something to behold. If you don't know Terrance Davis, you don't know real England (or what is great about it anyway).
March 12, 2014

Super Reviewer

There are two main problems with contemporary documentary filmmaking. The first is that the films often become more about the personality of the people making them than the facts and arguments they are trying to present. Michael Moore may be the greatest culprit, but this trend can be traced back to Nick Broomfield?s Driving Me Crazy, in which all the dead-ends and failures of filmmaking were filmed in real time and included in the finished product.

The second, resulting problem is that the vast majority of documentaries end up, in some form or another, preaching to the converted. Environmental films in particular start out with the best intentions and a solid amount of resources, but a number of factors intervene which prevent them from having ?mainstream appeal?. The subject matter may be too esoteric, the content may lecture the audience, or in the case of An Inconvenient Truth, you find yourself agreeing with everything being said whilst being bored senseless by the man who?s saying it.

Of Time and the City should therefore be congratulated for avoiding both traps. Although it is unquestionably Davies? most personal film, it is not marked by anything which could resemble arrogance or vapid self-promotion. It is instead a film of contrasts and contradictions, examining the ambivalent relationship one has with one?s origins, whether physical or cultural. It is a poignant and emotional examination of ageing, memory and coming to terms with one?s past.

Things don?t get off to a very convincing start. The opening five or ten minutes, which feature contemporary shots of Liverpool?s religious iconography, feel very televisual. Part of this might be down to our reaction to seeing archive footage on the big screen ? we are so used to seeing black-and-white newsreels in TV documentaries than it is easy to forget they were originally shown in cinemas. But even if certain elements of said footage are cinematic, they are still assembled and structured in a manner more befitting of television. Just as Danny, the Champion of the World suffered from the involvement of Thames Television, so the funding and expertise of BBC Films may explain the uneasy position Of Time and the City occupies on the big screen.

The other immediate obstacle is Davies? narration. Anyone expecting a film about Liverpool to be narrated by someone with a whining, nasal Scouse accent is going to be surprised (perhaps pleasantly). Davies? voice is one of long, dolorous vowels and nervous consonants, and he expresses his opinions on a spectrum ranging from suppressed fury to jowly mourning via open-mouthed rapture. He resembles an old-school university lecturer, brought out of retirement to teach his favourite subject to a class of disinterested first-years. For anyone too young to remember Wallace Greenslade or John Snagge, it takes some getting used to.

But after this uneasy first quarter of an hour, the film begins to build and you start to get swept up in the images that unfold. There is no central narrative or thesis beyond a loose chronology, which takes us spontaneously from the Second World War to the present day. In one beautiful moment, Davies recalls a childhood memory of catching a ferry on a day trip across the Mersey. He narrates: ?people got on board in black-and-white? they disembarked in colour?, and the footage mimics his narration.

Even if it were little more than a collection of photographs set to music, one cannot deny that Davies is a skilful compiler. His choice of music and images mesh together beautifully, creating moments of great power in which one enhances the other. In one very poignant moment, he shows a collection of black-and-white images of abandoned factories, scoring them with Brahms? Lullaby. It?s a tender and elegiac combination, casting a grey cloud of sadness over an already dark time in the city?s history.

Of Time and the City is on one level profoundly elegiac, with Davies mourning or remembering sadly all the images and traditions of his childhood years. There is something about black-and-white which brings out the earthy ruggedness in people, bringing all their crags and wrinkles to the fore. The section of Davies recalling Christmas in the 1950s is very evocative; it brings to mind the traditional seasonal images of Christmas past, without feeling in any way picture-postcard or chocolate box.

But more deeply, Of Time and the City is about identity and memory, and how one shapes the other. The film is a cinematic scrapbook with Davies retracing his footsteps, trying patiently to hang on to his memories and to the city he once knew. Late in the film, he mournfully asks what has happened to his city, showing a montage of new housing developments and the changing shape of the riverside. But this is not some boring old fool moaning about the youth of today; this is a man remembering what he had, with mixed emotions, and trying to find glimpses of the good he knew in what he sees today.

Davies? relationship with the past is far from straightforward, and the film is neither a breathless rant nor sentimental hagiography. There are great sections of him getting angry or expressing disillusionment with what was then the status quo. He lays into the monarchy during scenes of Elizabeth II?s coronation, calling it ridiculous to preserve such a thing out of tradition, and finding it obscene to stage such lavish ceremonies while millions were still on rations. In one laugh-out-loud moment he remarks: ?the problem with being poor is that it takes up all your time; the problem with being rich is that it takes up everybody else?s.?

On more than one occasion, he expresses distrust of the church, recalling how he discovered ?it was all a lie? and calling himself a proud atheist. He even finds time to express contempt for The Beatles. But amidst his bouts of passionate fury, there are also plenty of moments with Davies embracing his past. He waxes lyrical about his love of film, expressing an almost religious passion for cinema as images of Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner grace the screen. He reads from T. S. Eliot?s The Four Quartets and P. B. Shelley?s Ozymandius like a priest might read from the Gospels: with reverence and a dry sense of humour.

Of Time and the City is a deeply evocative film which examines memory, time and identity in the midst of a conflicted portrait of Liverpool. It takes a while to embrace its every idiosyncrasy, and its deeply personal tone may be alienating to some. But it crucially succeeds by not being entirely esoteric, providing a wide range of scenes and images which reach out to the viewer and invite you into this forgotten world. As a documentary it succeeds by conveying its message in an appealing and stimulating way, and by having an emotional core which feels honest and inviting.
October 4, 2010
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

"Of Time and the City" is a ponderous video essay from Terence Davies wherein he explores his youth and the past of his home city of Liverpool. In remembering his childhood and the lost movie palaces, his lecturing tone makes him sound just like your crabby Marxist grandfather. And there is very little of interest done with the large amount of archival footage on hand, failing to put much of it in context. Even taking on such an easy target as the royal family, the result just sounds like sour grapes. Say what you will about the Windsors, but you cannot say anything bad about the Beatles who transcended their early pop roots and revolutionized music.
May 5, 2010
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Guy Maddin should have viewed this film before putting together My Winnipeg..its a depiction of a lifetime spent in Liverpool that is not chop full of confusing images as Maddin's film is. Charming.
February 3, 2010
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

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