Of Time And The City

Strand Releasing,

Terence Davies

Unrated, 74 minutes

Toto Forever

Roberto F. Canuto

Kylan James,
Kjord Davis,
Diana Grivas,
Alex Aguila,
Alexandra Smothers

Unrated, 14 minutes

City Of Ghosts
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, July 2009



Author James Joyce referred to the city of his birth as "dear dirty Dublin." Though he both loved and hated Dublin, his books detail the city with such lovingness that its streets could be recreated from his autobiographical prose. A similar attitide, this time directed towards Liverpool, can be found in Terence Davies' latest film, Of Time And The City (2008).

As a filmmaker, Davies is renowned for mining his own life to supply the raw materials of his art. His reputation lies with a trilogy of short films based on his youth - Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980), and Death and Transfiguration (1983).In 2000, he enjoyed modest mainstream success with an adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House Of Mirth, but it would be eight years before his next movie. Known for his anger; an interview cited in Davies' Wikipedia entry is titled after The Smiths' song "Bigmouth Strikes Again." Of Time And The City, narrated by the director, is described as being his first documentary.

The subject of Of Time And The City is Davies' native Liverpool. His approach, like Joyce's, can hardly be called warm and fuzzy. Liverpool was once one of the world's shipping capitals. It was also, of course, the birthplace of The Beatles. Home to poverty and squalor following World War II, it is currently experiencing a civic rebirth. Davies' Liverpool is a city of ghosts and his film offers ample images of ruined streets and urban blight. Happy and painful memories occupy a soundtrack peppered with ironic music choices.

Of Time And The City is composed almost entirely of magnificent archival footage spanning almost an entire century. Crowds roam Liverpool's beaches, factories and shipyards. Decaying streets are complimented by equally ugly modern housing projects. Rows and rows of concrete apartment buildings are accompanied by Peggy Lee singing "The Folks Who Live On The Hill." Footage from the Korean War, and troops returning home, is scored to "He Aint Heavy He's My Brother" by the Hollies. References to The Beatles are brief and the filmmaker makes clear his preference for the symphonies of Shostokovich and Bruckner. Any nostalgia that the director feels is swallowed up by his regrets.
Throughout the film, Davies returns again and again to the Catholic Church. The institution's proscriptions regarding sexuality frustrated the director as a young gay man growing up in the late 1950s. His church offered no forgiveness, only the promise that the devil "will get you in the end." He fondly remembers a boy who put his hand on his shoulder and how he didn't want him to take it away. The theme of the artist's awakening sexuality is not the focus of his film but it is a recurring motif. Newsreels of Hollywood glitterati attending gala film openings illustrate Davies' love for the movies. (Appropriately, his film opens with curtains opening in a movie theater.) He speaks of the silver screen's glorious escapism but also allows for the dark and formative memories of seeing Dirk Bogarde as a gay man being blackmailed in 1961's Victim. As an adolescent, he watched masked, beefy wrestlers and begged God to deliver him from his desires, all the while caught between the church and the law.
His narration is tempered with heavy cynicism; consider his feelings towards the monarchy. During colorful footage of Queen Elizabeth's 1953 coronation, Davies is contemptuous of the extreme opulence on display during a time when most of the nation was still living under rations in "some of the worst slums in Europe," and refers sarcastically to the royal couple as "Betty and Phil." (He suggests that the Scottish firemen giving the Queen a 21 hose salute are simply "taking a piss.") As his camera captures the interior of an ornate cathedral, his words on the soundtrack provide bitter counterpoint. Playfully, the next sequence involves a different kind of congregation, enjoying "cocktails in Babylon," inside a de-consecrated church that has been turned into a modern night club.

Can a film also be a poem? Over the last few months, this is the second time that I have encountered a "documentary" that would be better described as being a stream-of-consciousness non-fiction film. The other one was Fred Barney Taylor's The Polymath, or The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. Davies, like Taylor, discards a linear storyline. Of Time And The City is composed of memories and, mirroring the workings of the human mind, one memory evokes another. We are left with a rich kaleidoscope that spirals organically from the filmmaker's reveries..

Davies visits and revisits his childhood, moving from past to present, and there and back again. This is not a History Channel documentary and should not be approached as such. Using his own words and also the verses of T.S. Eliot and other poets, (Joyce is also quoted), his deep, resonant voice is our guide through his labyrinthine memories. Charles Dickens began A Tale Of Two Cities by writing: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." These iconic lines sum up Terence Davies' rambling thoughts. Of Time And The City is a window into the artist's soul.


Passion and lust can make people do strange things. Toto Forever, a short film written and directed by Roberto F. Canuto, is a dreamlike meditation about a doomed love affair.
While delivering a package, a young postman named Toto (Kylan James) discovers an injured man laying next to an inground pool and tends to his wounds. Mark (Kjord Davis) is in trouble with the mob and the two men flee together. While resting on the side of the road, Toto gazes longingly at the handsome fugitive. He touches the sleeping man's hand and leans over to kiss him... and is surprised when the kiss is returned.
Toto Forever is only 14 minutes long and so we don't get to discover much about these men. Toto functions like the widow in an old Western who falls in love with the wounded gunslinger she nurses back to health. Mark could be a killer for all we know, or perhaps he is just an ordinary guy who has gotten in over his head. Toto resembles the nice boy next door, Mark is a little rougher while still possessing a model's good looks. Toto may have just found the man of his dreams or he may possibly be making the biggest mistake of his life when he runs off with him.

A short film can be like a sketch for a painting and this one begins, appropriately, with rough drawings of the two leads. The emphasis here, undoubtedly, is what the young postman would remember from his abrupt adventure. Regardless of its brevity, Toto Forever effectively invokes an idyllic mood with an undercurrent of danger. The moments that Toto and Mark get to share are very romantic and sensual. Without giving away the ending, let us just say that their encounter is one that Toto will undoubtedly remember for the rest of his life and so his memories emphasize the erotic. Much of the film is silent. Canuto has a nice eye for the image and effectively exploits the language of close-ups. The lovers' faces fill the screen as they kiss; sometimes the camera lingers only on their lips. Mark's face, rough with stubble, is a nice contrast to the more boyish Toto. I'm a sucker for hot kissing scenes between men and the screen erupts with their passion.

Toto Forever is sexy and suspenseful. Despite not being developed into a fully fleshed out movie, Canuto's short contains many pleasures. I look forward to the day when he directs his first feature film.