Colin Low I

film 5 of 9

City Out of Time

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 23, 2015

Was this a film assignment, a mere job of work? It could have been the former, but these particular Film Board guys are unusually, deeply devoted to just this kind of work, and never seem to be troubled by grandiose dreams when there’s a useful task before them. As a result they never seem to go through the motions, and they are certainly not doing so here.

Venice is the subject. The tone is regal, almost imperial even. The treatment is heightened, maybe a little generic. The score sounds like a pastiche of Miklós Rózsa’s score for Ben Hur. The narration (by Mr. Shatner) is of a piece with all of the afore-mentioned, such that the production entire leaves a slightly stuffy impression.

All of these things actually create an interesting tension. City Out of Time takes on big questions about art, about its meaning and status. It is also kind of coy with the answers, such that the discussion ends up being pretty vague. In other words this is a standard educational film, useful, of its time, worth your while. Not exactly for the ages, though.

But must every film aspire to such heights, or be judged negatively when it hasn’t accomplished what it hadn’t attempted anyway? Again, check those credits. Superb talents, and as always with them, smart stuff is going on here! The location is magisterial, touristical Venice, but City Out of Time concentrates on images, colour, compositions, juxtapositions that are all small-scale, immediate, personal and accessible. The concept and strategy are to ground the Venetian monumental in everyday things, and in the experience of all these superbly photographed tourists. At first they seem a type, or a mere dubious phenomenon. That would probably be our preconceptions speaking. But the camera keeps looking, and shooting. Individuals emerge, with their roots and reasons and actual experiences. Neither the mob, then, nor the swine running down the hill. Rather, they are adults, educating themselves according to the opportunities at hand. The film, and its subject, are congruent with one another.

Such subtleties are why, though the narration might be a little heightened and generic, City Out of Time still manages to approach something of a City of Gold quality. It accompanies its big questions about art with any number of superbly artful compositions and juxtapositions. These aren’t historical though, or textbook quotations, or straining in any way. Rather they are documentary/photographic, and occasionally quite modern (objects are abstracted, movement becomes the actual subject of the shot). Cinematic too—watch that painted lion in Ottawa become a real life statue in Venice (cf. the blowing tag in City of Gold, or the blink in La Jetée). Thus it is that the great big questions are answered—no, better, they are illustrated—in wonderfully quotidian ways, such that even the most exacting audience is still served quite sufficiently.

See if you agree: