Film festivals — particularly ones that aren’t in the upper echelon alongside Cannes, Toronto, etc. — are all about discovery. There’s always a handful or two of name product — films you’ve (possibly) already heard about, that stormed previous fests or are already on the theatrical release calendar. That leaves scores of obscurities, diamonds in the rough, needles in the haystack, whatever phrase you prefer, all waiting to be found.
That didn’t really happen this year, at least not for me. I saw a couple great films and a couple terrible ones. I even walked out once. But most of the 70+ films (!!) I saw fell into the big, fat, doughy middle: not uninteresting but too deeply flawed. I can’t tell y’all how many times a film started out promising only to fall apart somewhere around the third act. There were no shocking discoveries; most of my favorites this year were well-praised films that generally lived up to their respective hypes. Sita Sings the Blues, for one, is already near-legendary and turned out to in fact rule. And that’s great and I’m not complaining. But that’s just not the same as meeting a stranger and becoming instantly and insanely smitten.
Without further ado-ing, here’s my tastefully unranked PFF/CF Top Ten, which you can compare/contrast with the one I did when the fest itself was just beginning:
- Don’t Look Down
- The Hurt Locker
- I’m Going to Explode
- Sita Sings the Blues
- Summer Hours
- The Way We Get By
Bubblin’ under: Back Soon, The Brothers Bloom, Boy Interrupted, Embodiment of Evil, (500) Days of Summer, It’s Not me I Swear!, Not Quite Hollywood and Rumba. Oh, and what the hell, Tyson, too.
If you care to view the ballot results, they’re here, and I’m glad that none of my favorites wound up towards the bottom, as they sometimes do. Good job, Philadelphians, giving the highest rating to the Philadelphia-shot film about a down-on-his-luck boxer fighting against impossible odds. Fest awards here. And seriously, Jury Duty?
Thanks to everyone who worked the festival, which was far, far, far more organized than you’d expect something that, only two months, almost didn’t happen to be. Special shout-outs to TLA’s Matthew Ray for keeping me up to my ears in screeners and to the many abundantly wonderful volunteers, who were each of them crazily nice and friendly. And thanks to you, my dear readers, for reading. It’s been emotional.
I plan on doing some end-o’-fest summations and whatnot. Just not today. I need spleep. And maybe some more whiskey. Besides, heck, even the fest powers-that-be are being sluggish, with the awards — which I myself do not yet know, having skipped the Closing Night Film to catch a Festival Favorite — not yet posted on their site (as of midday-ish). But then, oh did the free G&Ts flow like wine at last night’s Closing Night Hootenanny. Also, Rory Culkin was there. He’s young.
Anyway, see y’all tomorrow, bright, chipper and hopefully no longer fucking exhausted.
If you have exactly three minutes until your next film fest movie and your body requires a meal, try Jimmy John’s. They are suspiciously fast.
Or maybe not the monde, but the PFF/CF, anyway, which for you plebians has been part of your life for just under a fortnight but for us journos has been going on since early March. And with the finale comes the star-studded indie that could, but likely won’t.
So late to the game it almost feels fresh, the long-in-the-works Lymelife (C+) is an evils-of-the-suburbs number that’s not as studied as The Ice Storm, not as glib as American Beauty but not distinctive enough to even warrant existing. The good Culkin — that, of course, is Rory, of You Can Count on Me — plays a glum Long Island teen whose father (Alec Baldwin) is cheating with the mother (Cynthia Nixon, shrill) of the girl on whom he crushes (Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia). Meanwhile societal decay is symbolized by a rash of Lyme disease, which has claimed Roberts’ father Timothy Hutton. Also, there’s a gun. And remember what Tolstoy said about those. Superfluous it may be, but it has its moments, including a believably meandering deflowering scene, plus strong turns from Culkin the Youngest, Roberts and Hutton, who looks convincingly hollowed-out by his metaphorical malady. (7:15pm, Prince Music Theater)
The rest of the day is devoted to Festival Favorites, of which I can more or less recommend the Afghani Kabuli Kid (5pm, Prince Music Theater), the amusingly loopy Argentine bonking pic Don’t Look Down (9:15pm, Ritz East) and the umpteenth appearance of I Sell the Dead (9:30pm, Ritz East), in which graverobbers Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden run afoul of the undead, aliens and Ron Perlman as a monk.
And of course, there’s the closing night hootenany at G Lounge, @ 111 S. 17th St. I’ll be the one passed out on a table, whiskey in my hand.
Tomorrow (or maybe Wednesday), I’ll be back with closing summations, any leftover reviews, further splutterings as per my exhaustion, etc.
The things that I saw that I never thought I would see were, of course, in Embodiment of Evil (B), the long-awaited third installment (officially, anyway) in the Coffin Joe series, which you can learn more about over here. I’ve never seen At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul or This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse, but this resurrection, the first C.J. film since 1979, served as a, well, memorable introduction to the fiendish Brazilian undertaker with a black cape, top hat and fingernails so long they curve under his palms. As played by José Mojica Marins in what may be the hammiest performance ever committed to film, Joe is released from a mental institution and instantly gets back to business. No Dario Argento “comeback” this — Evil is rough stuff but with a moral underlining. Marins’ essentially borrows the idea from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects: Joe & co. are bad, bad people and their violence is abhorrent. (At one point Marins, who also directed, compares people who would enjoy watching such torture to a cackling hunchback.) But the people after him are no better, including a murderous favela cop introduced gunning down slum kids and the crazed monk son of one of Joe’s previous victims who wants to use his privelege in the church to condemn his soul to hell. Marins doesn’t go as far Rejects, but there’s a definite viewpoint to this rejuvenation. And while most of the violence is towards (naked) women (including a bit showing — how do I phrase this? — something that should not go in a vagina), in the interest of fairness he does throw in men getting their ding dongs torn off with teeth. Yea.
I just got done with a piece on the rare decent shorts in anthology films, for the upcoming three-fer Tokyo! None of the four Thai horror quickies in 4bia (C) would make the cut. Varied in tone and content, they consist of three that are vaguely promising then disappointing, plus one that’s outright death. The bad first: “Tit for Tat” takes a Prom Night/Slaughter High premise and fixes it up with migraine-inducing hyper-style, plus beasties copied and pasted, with much loss in resolution, from a Chris Cunningham video. The only one of any interest is “In the Middle,” which temporarily feels like it might be a keen, if overly referential (shout-outs to everything from The Others to Titanic), exploration of guilt. Until it turns out not to be at all. C’mon, how hard is it to scare people, people?
For a film that melds violent spy games, softcore business time and musical numbers, the French The Joy of Singing (B-) holds together a lot better than it should. The radiantly unamused Marina Foïs stars as a spy infiltrating an opera singing group to see if one of its members (the great Jeanne Balibar, in an awesomely bubbleheaded turn) has a sought-after USB key. Eventually everyone sings, everyone screws eachother and everyone gets naked. Director Ilan Duran Cohen is aiming for a fairly unique tone that could be described as tough-minded absurdism. Should Christophe Honoré (Love Songs, The Beautiful Person) decide to move his polysexual retro films into the spy arena, it might look a little something like this.
Set on the border of Israel and the West Bank, Eran Riklis’ Lemon Tree (C+) is, alas, not the “Lemon Tree” episode of The Simpsons reconfigured for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. But it’s almost as hoary. Based on a real incident, this P-I metaphor finds a Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbas) who’s shocked when her new next door neighbors, the callow Israeli defense minister (Doron Tavory) and his much nicer wife (Roa Lopez-Michael), demand her ancestral lemon grove is viewed as a security threat and must be chopped down. Riklis, who directed the chaotic and trenchant wedding comedy The Syrian Bride (also with Abbas), segues into serious social issue mode. I’d be lying if it wasn’t occasionally effective: the grim final shot made every hair on the back of my neck stand upright, just as it intends to. But it’s cookie cutter and not above shamelessness or simplicity: in Riklis’ estimation, Tavory is Old School Israel, Lopez-Michael is New Israel and Abbas is Nobly Suffering Palestine. Abbas, who brought gravity to a thin, condescendingly written role in The Visitor, works similar miracles here.
A lazy Sunday movie shown on a lazy Sunday, the South Korean My Dear Enemy (B-) follows a woman (Ha Jung-woo) who demands that an loutish ex-boyfriend (Jeon Do-yeon) pay her the gobs of money he’s owed for awhile NOW! and proceeds to spend the day roaming around with him. She doesn’t, as you’d expect, get back together with him, but she does go from comically unamused by his attempts to charm her to far more empathetic to his situation. Director Lee Yoon-ki, who previously made the quite good This Charming Girl, keeps things leisurely and gets an amazingly distracted performance from Jeon, whose character could almost be lifted from the films of fellow countryman Hong Sang-soo. Perched between better than it should be and not quite good enough.
Last summer Marty Moss-Coane devoted an entire hour of Radio Times to two guys who didn’t understand that the infamous New Yorker cover clearly satirizing Obama-related paranoia was satire and weren’t embarrassed enough to keep shtum about it. It was painful. Initially that’s what Playing Columbine (B-) — about the controversial and very obviously satirical video game “Super Colubine Massacre RPG!” and directed by its inventor, Danny Ledonne — feels like. Throw in some self-aggrandizement and you have me doing my second walk-out of the fest. But I stayed and sure enough, after a bumpy beginning, it mightily improved, mostly because Ledonne rightly recognizes his role as a conversation-starter and quickly begins keeping his onscreen persona to a minimum. Ledonne’s net is cast wide, exploring the way video games have been shunned as art, the silliness of scapegoating and the notion that an artist can’t be held accountable to those who grossly misinterpret their intentions. Where it fails is in finding a strong voice from the other side; both conservative activist Jack Thompson and Senator Andrew Lanza humiliate themselves with every word, and the result is a film that feels less like a dialectic and more like PR for its worldview. Not that that worldview is wrong, mind…
Eastern European cinema tends to encourage black comedy, but few films are as patently goofy as Goran Markovic’s The Tour (B-), in which a troupe of decidedly pacifistic thespians wind up traveling through the still freshly broken-up remains of Yugoslavia of 1993. Not unlike Bergman’s Shame envisioned as a grim yuk-fest, it finds the actors playing tripey comedies and stiff historical plays for randy soldiers, all while driving on a tour bus with constant explosions around them (which the driver, unblinking, tells them is normal). Markovic usually keeps the tone balanced between horror and gallows humor (sample gag: a jaded doctor serves the actors tea in cups covered in blood), though tips the scales towards the former a couple times. But, then, there is a fucking multi-scaled war going on…
So many B-s this weekend. Sigh. But not all was mediocre or disappointing. Caught the Quay Brothers shorts sampler (having bailed on the “legendarily boring” Institute Benjamenta after a long movie day), which reaffirmed my belief that, while the Norristown-born stop motion-ers lack the rigor of, say, Jan Svankmajer, their films don’t need rigor to work. Films like Street of Crocodiles, the Stille Nacht series and In Absentia (which I never liked till seeing it this time) work because they have a logic so hidden we never quite discover it, and are thus effectively lost. Often times their images are impossible to parse, causing one to stare and stare and stare, looking in vain for something to hold onto. Still, I say their switch to video (and their new short Eurydice – She So Beloved) just isn’t the same.
And I also re-saw my two favorites of the fest — Sita Sings the Blues and I’m Going to Explode — and back-to-back, no less. They were awesome.
First off, please for the love of all that is good and decent go see the (still so far) best of the fest Sita Sings the Blues — whose awesomeness I have, like all who’ve seen it, been nearly annoying about promoting. (Fri., April 3, 7pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., April 5, Ritz East.) Also, go see this, the second best (again, still so far) of the fest:
Almost as awesome as Sita, I’m Going to Explode is a delirious riff on Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou that I positively gushed about here. As far as teen reimaginations of classic material — and Plf is holy in my book — it simply decimates the film directly below. Fri., April 3, 9:30pm, Ritz 5 and Sun., April 5, 7:15pm, The Bridge.
The Beautiful Person Filmmaker Christophe Honoré continues his roll — started with Dans Paris and Love Songs — of perpetrating nifty French New Wave throwbacks, only with a polysexual twist and the presence of big-haired Louis Garrel. But he’s slipping. This time he tries to update Made de Lafayette’s 17th century novel La Princesse de Clèves to a modern day Parisian high school, which makes a weird kind of sense given the tortured sexual politics of the source. But no Cruel Intentions, 10 Things I Hate About You or O here — Honoré is after his usual whimsical-depressive vibe, with characters bursting into tears or, at one point, song. Honoré does find a new Anna Karina type in dreamy brunette Léa Seydoux, who exudes sex and speaks with an impatient, fast-paced alto reminiscent of a young Virginie Ledoyen. And while this, like most of Honoré’s work, is unwieldy but just passably solid, the director could stand to change up his shtick again. Grade: B Sat., April 4, 4:15pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., April 5, 9:15pm, Ritz 5.
Il Divo If you’re not intimately familiar with the labyrinth that is Italian politics of the last thirty years, you might be a little lost during Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino’s sordid biopic of crooked and much-connected seven-time Prince Minister, lifetime senator and all-around scoundrel Guilio Andreotti. But though Sorrentino hurls out names that you’ll instantly forget every couple seconds, details aren’t his goal. Instead he orchestrates a positively phantasmagoric portrait of a man so empty the actor playing him (Toni Servillo, late of another impenetrable Italian crime pic Gommorrah) barely moves a muscle. Frozen and jowly, and resembling an even more inhuman version of Alan Greenspan, he’s a symbol of privilege and rot, hollowed out through corruption and power. Sorrentino’s camera dives around him, presses into his face and performs other such gymnastic tricks, while the film increasingly becomes a subjective, lonely nightmare. Il Divo really only has that lone insight into its subject, and is thus one-note. But whatta note. Grade: B Fri., April 3, 7pm, Ritz 5 (Sold Out!) and Sun., April 5, 5pm, Prince Music Theater.
Snow Aida Begic’s drama basically relocates The Cherry Orchard to Bosnia and in the home of women widowed by the 1995 Dayton Accords’ genocide who’ve made a living making and selling jams and jellies. Will they sell their land to developers? Or realize they work best together? Almost entirely devoid of sentimentality, Begic’s film is a tough thing, the kind of film where one character exclaims, “Please don’t comfort us.” But it’s also the kind of movie where it’s called “Snow” and the metaphorical and literal precipitation doesn’t arrive till the final moments. Still, nice abrupt ending. Grade: B- Fri., April 3, 12:15pm, The Bridge and Sun., April 5, 6:15pm, Black Box at the Prince.
Surveillance In 1993, David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer directed Boxing Helena, a movie that mightily pissed off every single person who saw it and destroyed her career soon as its started. Fifteen years later she tried again and the best you can say is that at least it’s not pissing anyone off. But it’s still baby steps. Bill Pullman at his wormiest headlines a bizarre ensemble cast — including both Cheri Oteri and French Stewart in serious roles — about a small town, a couple murders, something spooky going on. Sound familiar? Surveillance is its own thing, happily, and it has a nicely sustained middle section involving a pair of evil cops fucking with the minds of two cars’ worth of travelers. But it still lacks the control over its weirdness that her father has even when he’s on autopilot. It does, however, feature a fearless, terrific performance from Pell James (Zodiac). Grade: C+ Sat., April 4, 9:30pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., April 5, 2:30pm, Ritz 5.
Treeless Mountain One of the ever so slightly disappointing sophomore follow-ups to great debuts in the festival — Sugar, Lake Tahoe, Dioses – So Yong Kim’s second feature (after the fairly extraordinary In Between Days, which I hereby command you to Netflix) finds the South Korean-born director switching from anguished teens to anguished kids, which makes all the difference. The feelings of painfully introverted teenagers isn’t nearly so covered as wayward children, and however much Kim retains her shtick of tight close-ups and caught-on-the-fly moments, Treeless Mountain can’t help but feel like been-there-done-that, and not just because the plot is similar to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows. Two cute little girls, aged seven and five, float from guardian to guardian once their single-parent mom can no longer provide for them. They, of course, stay resilient by sticking to eachother’s side, though Kim has a couple novel twists up her sleeve. Grade: B Sat., April 4, 5pm and Sun., April 5, 2:45pm, both Ritz East.
Tulpan Proof that Borat’s not the only funny Kazakh, Sergey Dvortsevoy’s middle-of-nowhere comedy is an irresistible mix of ethnography porn and deadpan silliness. A naive young man returns from the navy to the arid wasteland in which he grew up, improbably wishing to settle down in the land he should have left forever. His attempts are threatened when his arranged bride doesn’t care for his funny-shaped ears nor him, resulting in many feeble attempts to win her over. The highlight is a real-time goat birth sequence and there’s plenty of scenes of life just happening. But there’s also equal amounts of near-screwball comedy, plus some crazed homelife reminiscent of Frank Capra at his silliest. Grade: B+ Fri., April 3, 7:15pm, The Bridge and Sun., April 5, 12pm, Ritz East.
- Before the Fall C- Sat., April 4, 12:30pm, Ritz 5.
- The Burning Plain C- Sat., April 4, 2:30pm, Ritz 5.
- Cuttin’ Da Mustard C+ Fri., April 3, 7:45pm, Ritz East.
- Girl From Monaco B- Fri., April 3, 12:15pm, Ritz 5.
- God’s Forgotten Town C- Fri., April 3, 2:45pm, Ritz East and Sun., April 5, 9:15pm, Ritz East.
- I Sell the Dead B Sun., April 5, 9:30pm, I-House.
- Julia B Sat., April 4, 9:15pm and Sun., April 5, 2:15pm, both Ritz East.
- Kassim the Dream C Fri., April 3, 4:45pm, Prince Music Theater.
- King of Ping Pong B- Fri., April 3, 7:15pm, Ritz East.
- 9 to 5: Days in Porn B- Sun., April 5, 9:30pm, The Bridge.
- Of Time and the City B Sun., April 5, 5pm, The Bridge.
- Plague Town C+ Fri., April 3, 4:45pm, I-House.
- The Way We Get By (above) B Fri., April 3, 3pm, Ritz East and Sat., April 4, 4:30pm, Black Box at the Prince.
- Zift C+ Sat., April 4, 5:30pm, The Bridge.
Unseen So Far But Looks Notable (Possibly)
- Despite screaming oh so Eastern European, stop motion kings the Quay Brothers — that’s Stephen and Timothy to you — are in fact totally Philly. Well, almost. Born in Norristown, they attended UArts, flew to Europe and eventually cranked out a respectably unique body of work (including contributions to this). Back in town briefly, they will introduce both their first of two long players, 1995’s perversely live-action Institute Benjamenta (Fri., April 3, 9:15pm, Prince Music Theater), as well as a smattering of their shorts, including the classic Street of Crocodiles (above) and their most recent Eurydice – She, So Beloved (Sat., April 4, 2pm, Prince Music Theater).
- From The Syrian Bride’s Eran Riklis comes Lemon Tree, another look at Israeli-Palestinian relations, this one starring The Visitor’s great Hiam Abbass. Fri., April 3, 12:15pm, Ritz East.
- More Eastern European miserablism! The Tour brings a darkly comic look at an acting troupe who wind up on the front lines of Bosnia’s civil war. Whoops! Fri., April 3, 2:30pm, Ritz 5.
- Starring An Affair of Love’s Nathalie Baye, A French Gigolo — from France — concerns a middle-aged woman (Baye) who has forsaken romance and emotion and whatnot in favor of shtupping male escorts. Sat., April 4, 7:15pm, Ritz East.
- The Danish Worlds Apart is the gazillionth riff on Romeo and Juliet, with a Jehovah’s Witness falling for a non-Jehovah’s Witness, resulting in much tut-tutting. Fri., April 3, 5pm.
- Singing, spying and capering inexplicably come together in the French Joy of Singing, featuring such sights/sounds as Jacques Rivette regular Jeanne Balibar singing the Pretenders. Sat., April 4, 12pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., April 5, 8:30pm, Black Box at the Prince.
- There are already three films in the fest about kids abandoned by their mother (It’s Not Me I Swear!, Mommy is at the Hairdressers and Treeless Mountain), so why not a fourth? Hailing from China America, Children of Invention, Tze Chun’s debut, has the mom go missing, and soon after the whole family is evicted. Fun. Sat., April 4, 12:30pm, The Bridge and Sun., April 5, 4pm, Black Box at the Prince.
- Alfre Woodard will, alas, not be able receive the Fade to Black Quest Award in person prior to the Saturday screening of American Violet, a drama from Tim Disney (yes, relation) about a woman railroaded by the system, or at least a sniveling D.A. Michael O’Keefe. Tim Blake Nelson, who ought to act a lot more, also features. Sat., April 4, 6:30pm and Sun., April 5, 2:30pm, both at Prince Music Theater.
- Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna reunite, and for Y Tu Mama Tambien director Alfonso Cuarón’s brother Carlos no less, in Rudo y Cursi, about two soccer players stumbling as they hit the big time. Luna has a mustache. Sat., April 4, 9:30pm, Ritz East.
- Colorado resident Danny Ledonne’s infamous game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! is the subject of the doc Playing Columbine … which was directed by Ledonne himself. How about that. Sat., April 4:45pm, Ritz East and Sun., April 5, 9:30pm, Ritz East.
I never walk out of movies. I don’t know why not. I’m sure if I tallied up the number of hours I’ve wasted on films I should have walked out of — that had no promise to begin with and which, on that front at least, didn’t disappoint — I’d have another reason to sob into my pillow, as I do every night before I go to bed. Yesterday I walked out of a movie for the first time since…ever? I recall walking out of Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World, with a young Brad Pitt and an animated Kim Bassinger, back in 1991. But I was actually at the drive-in, so it was really more of a “drive-off.” I also never finished watching While You Were Sleeping on video a thousand years back. I don’t care if Peter Gallagher ever wakes from that coma.
It’s not even as though the movie in question — the Australian Bitter & Twisted (above, with an actress sporting my likely reaction had I stayed the full length) — was particularly awful. It was just dull, with a group of sadsacks being sad for reasons that aren’t particularly novel: dad’s fat, mom’s neglected and entering menopause, daughter’s having an affair, plus another guy who’s quiet and sad for reasons that weren’t immediately clear but would likely be mundane, too. They moped and the movie, rather than offer some insight or a countering tone, just moped along with them. Bitter and twisted are two emotions I would have greatly preferred, but this is more like Down & Blue. I gave it a half hour to improve and it didn’t. So I bolted. And it felt fucking great. Why don’t I do this more often?
The movie I saw right beforehand, the South Korean doc Old Partner (B-), would be more likely to drive someone screaming from the theater. Concerning an old man and his old ox, it has every reason to be a simple, near-sadistic weepie. And yet director Lee Chung-ryoul makes sure it’s almost entirely unsentimental — an almost scoreless, tactile experience wherein the old man is shot almost entirely the same way as the old, old ox, who, like his owner, is really fucking old, and near-death. It’s man and beast put on the same level. (At one point the man is sitting there, silently and still, and the ox moos off-camera. And I swear for a second I thought it was the man mooing. But then there might be a reason for that.) This isn’t exciting stuff, exactly, and Old Partner can at times feel endless to no real point; I’m assuming the bell attached to the ox was placed there to keep festival-fatigued audience members from nodding off. (Thanks, whomever.) Of course, there’s also the man’s slightly younger, feisty wife, who nags her near-silent spouse endlessly and informs us multiple times that she married the wrong man. This is heading towards a ten-hankie climax, complete with close-ups of what looks like tears dropping from the ox’s eye and a hammering home of the film’s ode to the old-timers getting lost in the modern age yada yada. But by then the film has … well, almost earned the fuzziness.
Lauded English filmmaker Terence Davies has been AWOL since 2000’s quite good Edith Wharton do The House of Mirth. But rest assured, the bitteress that seeps through his doc/cinepoem Of Time and the City (B) isn’t new. With narration so posh it drips like molasses, Davies summons up, via archival footage and plenty of old standards, the Liverpool of his youth, roughly from the ‘50s through the ‘70s — pining for a dead world while also acknowledging the past always seems rosier from a far remove. His view is both micro and macro, concerning his budding homosexuality and break with Catholicism (“to become a born-again atheist, thank god”) as well as the rougher pars of England that are always infinitely far behind the view the nation has of itself. At first it seems like the straight version of Guy Maddin’s loopy My Winnipeg, but Davies can be just as witty, or at least hilariously crabby. In his own personal history of Liverpool the Beatles are but a footnote, indicative of something whose popularity, like that of the monarchy, crushes and obscures the little things. Davies sometimes loses control of his film, letting it meander or simply turning it over to long stretches of song and mostly random image. Other times his songs stand in too-ironic counterpoint to the misery on-screen. And yet other times, as with the finale, he aims for a bombast that borders on kitsch. But imperfect though it is, Of Time and the City is something in which to stew — to be soaked up like a sponge.