Friday, July 23, 2010

Observations and warnings from the British My Winnipeg

"If Liverpool didn't exist, it would have to be invented." - Myrbach.
Winnipeg never got bombed in World War II or spawned the Beatles, but getting bombed at a social while listening to the Guess Who has gotta be a close second.

It's hard not to think about the real parallels between our city and Liverpool (or maybe any city and Liverpool) when you watch Of Time and the City, a 74-minute documentary and meditation on urban change, memory, time and place.

Billed as "a love song and eulogy for Liverpool," Terence Davies' film is a dreamlike journey though Liverpool's history to the present.

The visuals are mostly archival photos and video juxtaposed with gorgeous music and Davies' acerbic voiceover, in which he quotes literature and poetry at the same time he slams the Royals, city planners, British establishment, and even organized religion.

Winnipeggers can think of it as "the British My Winnipeg," even if Of Time and the City errs on the side of poetry where My Winnipeg errs on the side of wacky. When in Winnipeg...

The documentary is unavailable in North America, but you can order it from and watch it on an all-regions DVD player or computer, like me! Or you can troll the torrents, if that's your deal. Troll.

Winnipeg, meet Liverpool

What Winnipegger wouldn't instantly recognize themselves in Davies' neat observation about people and their complicated relationship with home?
"We love the place we hate. Then we hate the place we love. We leave the place we love and spend a lifetime trying to regain it."
Or his take on Liverpool's post-war architecture?
"Municipal architecture is dispiriting at the best of times, but when combined with the British genius for creating the dismal, it makes for a cityscape that's anything but Elysian."
Or even his description of the weather?
"A foot race with someone collapsing of heat stroke because the temperature rose a couple of degrees above freezing."
He saves some of his most-pointed criticism for Liverpool's industrial decline and inability to aspire to anything greater than bars, retail outlets, and "revitalized" docks, which now look a lot like Winnipeg's The Forks or any city with a waterside development - Baltimore? Duluth? Bar Harbor?
"We hoped for paradise, we got the anus mundi."
My trip to Liverpool

The film brought me back to my one and only visit to Liverpool - a Beatles pilgrimage, of course.

If there's something better than sitting in a bus on Penny Lane listening to Penny Lane on a tinny speaker, I don't know what it is.

Like a Torontonian asked for his description of Winnipeg, when I told Londoners of my planned journey to Liverpool, they warned me that "things are nasty in the north."

When I got to Liverpool, I wasn't disappointed by the lovely people and the equally lovely Magical Mystery Tour, even if Davies hates the Beatles and dismisses them in the film in seconds with a sarcastic recital of their most-famous lyrics, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah."

I found that most Liverpudlians had a similar love/hate thing going with their city and country as we do with ours, more aware and intimate with its promises and failings than any visitor could be.

"Enjoy England," one person told me. "We don't."

Sound familiar?


  1. I'm certain that most people have a love/hate relationship with the place they grew up. Maybe hating where you grew up is a form of hit an age where all you want to do is leave and start your own life.

    I loved My Winnipeg, and Of Time and the City sounds awesome!

  2. I think you'd like it! It's very worthy of the 200 films experiment!

  3. I really liked Liverpool when I visited for a few days in 2006. Although the people I met were nice for the most part, I did get some comments like, "If you came all the way to England, why would you bother coming to Liverpool?", or, "You should have gone to Snowdonia."

    I heard similar comments in Newcastle.


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