By Howard Feinstein
British filmmaker Terence Davies pulls no punches. �I do not celebrate being gay,� he says, adding that he has not had sex for 30 years. While that may be a generational phenomenon -- Davies is 62 -- some of it surely has to do with his home country and its culture. Britain was particularly unkind to gays in the �60s, a sexually formative decade for Davies. He says he only began to grasp what he was in 1961 when he saw the British movie Victim, about a blackmailed, closeted lawyer (played, apparently without irony, by closeted matinee idol Dirk Bogarde). �When the word homosexual came up in the film, you could have heard a feather drop in the sixth balcony,� he says. �That was a word that you never, ever heard.�
In his latest film, the exceptional documentary Of Time and the City, Davies recalls a court case at which the judge roundly scolded two men caught having sex outdoors: �Not only have you engaged in an act of gross indecency, but you did it under one of London�s most beautiful bridges.�
�That can only have happened in England,� Davies says tartly.
The youngest of 10 children in a working-class Catholic family, Davies connects his inner gay with everything else in his life in a small, melancholic body of work that is decidedly against the grain -- no false joyful climaxes or happy endings, a focus on characters, little plot -- set during his childhood in the �40s and �50s. An innocent adolescent gay-to-be is at the center of his early projects, including the epic Terence Davies Trilogy; Distant Voices, Still Lives; and The Long Day Closes. Throughout each film Davies observes an extended Catholic family living, as his did, in a Liverpool slum.
He notes that, ironically, Hollywood films in the �50s acted as a palliative for the poor: �We thought every American lived like that: wonderful hair, dressed beautifully, wraparound teeth, and they had fairly big kitchens. When you came out of the theater, you didn�t think, Oh, I�m depressed because I am living in a slum. Somehow it transformed the way you looked at your street.�
Of Time and the City is constructed entirely from archival footage and punctuated by Davies�s dry, campy commentary. He skewers �the Betty and Phil show� -- the lavish 1947 royal wedding of Elizabeth and Philip amid postwar rationing -- and mocks the cardinal�s �new frock.� A classical music buff, he spends just two minutes on Liverpool�s most famous native sons, the Beatles, whom he likens to �provincial solicitors.� The film is a love letter to more anonymous Liverpudlians -- washerwomen, schoolchildren, wrestlers, and jockeys -- who have kept a bleak industrial metropolis going.
Davies�s next project, assuming he gets the necessary financing, is titled Mad About the Boy, from an original screenplay. �It�s a romantic comedy featuring a m�nage � trois set in present-day London and Paris at a fashion magazine,� he explains. �And it has a happy ending. I hope you�re sitting down.�
Of Time and the City is currently playing at select theaters.