March 2018, arsenal cinema

Time and memory: The cinema of Terence Davies


Time and memory are central elements of Terence Davies’ films. The British director was born in 1945, the youngest of 10 children. His childhood was overshadowed by his father’s violence and a repressive form of Catholicism. His understanding that he was gay was associated with feelings of shame and guilt. His works explore these experiences, from the early very autobiographical films to his later literary adaptations. The past and present are tied together in a unique fashion and the characteristics of memory, which is fragmentary and erratic, connected to emotions, music and individual people, are accommodated. Davies does not talk about the life of his protagonists as a chronological sequence of events but more as a thickly-woven rug of dreams and needs, encounters and disappointments. Caught up as they are in their own lives, the protagonists cannot escape their past, just as Davies’ films are not interested in linear narration. Long, still shots, associative montage and flowing transitions provide the aesthetic equivalence of this specific form of of exploring time. Arsenal will show all eight of Terence Davies’ feature films before 9th April.

THE TERENCE DAVIES TRILOGY (GB 1976–1983, 29.3.) began as three independently shot mid-length films connected in terms of subject matter (CHILDREN, MADONNA AND CHILD, DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION). They use concentrated montage and a merciless but sympathetic gaze to tell the story of Robert Tucker’s life. His path from tortured schoolchild to adult, who hides his homosexuality and is riddled with guilt, until his lonely death as an old man do not show a maturing but a lifelong suffering which only finds deliverance in death. The form is as radical as the contents, using stylized black and white images and an often static camera to tell the life of a suffering man with scraps of memory and chains of association. 

A QUIET PASSION (GB/Belgium 2016, 30.3.) The US poet Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) only published a handful of some 1800 poems that she actually wrote. Though she lived a remote life in her family home in Amherst, Mass. her poems are evidence of a broad vision and rich inner experiences. In this film completely devoid of kitsch, Davies traces Dickinson’s development from a young woman who talks with wit and sparkling intelligence about politics, religion and the role of women to one who withdraws gradually from the world because of a lack of ties and intimacy. He creates a powerful portrait of a woman (played fantastically by Cynthia Dixon) who fights for her passions but struggles with the futility of her fight - one with absolutely no pathos that is at the same time deeply moving. Off screen, Nixon reads the poems of Dickinson which are thus given their own space.

DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (GB 1988, 31.3.) Family scenes, held together by songs sung at the pub and in the living room: In this kaleidoscopic, non-chronological portrait of a working-class Liverpool family of two daughters and one son in the 1940s and 50s, music expresses what the protagonists cannot - overwhelming joy and immeasurable pain at once. Alternating between still, tableau-esque pictures and dreamlike tracking shots, time seems almost to be frozen and the photo of the once violent but now dead father on the living room wall (which is of Davies’ own father) shows clearly that childhood experiences can last a whole life. (al)

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – 
Two become one

07:30 pm Cinema 2

Zur Sache, Schätzchen

Zur Sache, Schätzchen May Spils FRG 1968
With Werner Enke, Uschi Glas, Henry van Lyck
35 mm German OV 80 min

arsenal cinema: Time and memory: The cinema of Terence Davies

08:00 pm Cinema 1

A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion UK/Belgium 2016
With Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle
DCP OV/GeS 124 min