March 24, 2009

The problem with being poor


Of Time and the City, Terence Davies' essay film about a working-class Liverpool upbringing, comes with bitter attacks on the institutions that organised or dominated it -- the monarchy, the Catholic church -- while still managing to drum up a certain nostalgia for all that has been lost. Kids play in the streets, terrace houses spew smoke, ships leave the docks for new worlds: we recognise these post-war images as ancient cliches and Davies's voice-over -- weaving together fragments of memory, those bitter attacks and extensive literary quotes -- doesn't make them new again but you have to be impressed by a level of bias and negativity that borders on the eccentric. He's no cheerleader for the north's urban renewal (nor Liverpool's most famous sons, who get a hilariously dismissive "yeah yeah yeah" from Davies). At his best, he turns his theatrical disgust into aphorisms: while playing footage of QEII's coronation -- easily the comic highlight of a surprisingly unmournful film -- he quotes Willem De Kooning's "The problem with being poor is that it takes up all your time" and quickly adds, "The problem with being rich is that it takes up everyone else's".