This week could not have started off with more sadness if it tried. With Monday came one of the bigger loses in the film world in quite some time, as iconic essayist/filmmaker/filmmaking essayist Chris Marker died, just a day after celebrating his 91st birthday. With a career built on cinematic term papers of sorts, Marker had one of the greatest, most impactful and most varied careers in all of experimental cinema. Crafting such gems as the Criterion-approved La Jetee and Sans Soleil, and even inspiring films like Twelve Monkeys (and even being cited by some as inspiration for films like The Terminator), very few directors could say that they had made such an impact with such esoteric and distinctive pieces of art.
So, as the week continues, how best would we remember a director’s career as impactful and vital as Marker’s? Well, as we all re-visit the director’s iconic canon through various outlets (a shocking amount of his films are available online), how about we take a look at one of his fellow essay-style filmmakers, the incomparable Terence Davies, and his Criterion Collection-worthy feature, Of Time And The City.
A writer/filmmaker, the 66-year-old from Liverpool heads back to his birthplace for this 2008 dissertation, looking at his 28 years spent in the city, focusing on topics ranging from his faith (he was born Catholic only later renouncing his faith) to pop music, and everything in between. Built entirely out of stock footage, be it newsreel or documentary, Of Time And The City is a meditation on time and the human experience throughout time, that is one of the most personal films you’ll ever see, while at the same time taking the source theme, and melding it into one of the most universal ‘documentaries’ that we’ve seen in quite some time.
Visually, the film is breathtaking. As ‘poetic’ as a film can truly be, the film’s strength comes entirely comes from the man behind it all. More so an editor than a true blue filmmaker with regards to his work on this film, the film has a great sense of melancholic cynicism, while also being absolutely dry and distinctly comedic. Clocking in at just shy of 80 minutes, the film breezes by like a welcoming fall gust of wind, bringing with it a look back at the time before, while also seeing the change that has already come.
However, it’s Davies as a commentator that is the film’s true point of success. Taking a deeply heartfelt look at his homeland, there is always a dry wit to Davies’ monologue, while also being quite intellectually engaging. A gay man, the film takes a moving look at Davies’ loss of faith, among other topics of conflict he’s come across. Always moving, always eloquent, and steeped in a distinctive sense of both nostalgia and true anger, Of Time And The City, Davies’ first real documentary, is arguably the director’s most superb film, and a must see for fans of the genre and the more experimental attempts made within that genre.
Released by Strand Releasing, the film does have a respectable home video release, featuring trailers, interviews and editing room footage with Davies, among other supplements, but Criterion could do wonders with this, or really any of Davies films (his latest, The Deep Blue Sea, is one of this writer’s favorites of 2012) on DVD and Blu-ray. Especially this film. Of Time is a deeply nostalgic look at Davies’ homeland and its history, while also being an angry, funny, witty, charming and affecting meditation on the human experience throughout time. Unlike any documentary you’ve ever seen, films have rarely fit the bill of being ‘poetic’ quite as much as this experimental masterpiece.