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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, September 22, 2006
    Leaving Liverpool takes a long, long time
    One of the good things about the Liverpool Biennial is that the organisers encourage the contributors to engage with the city, rather than allow a planeload of international artists to hit town with their own agendas (and already-prepared artworks) remaining disengaged from this place they're exhibiting in. Result - ace pieces of work like the two I enjoyed at FACT today, Kelly Mark's Liverpool A-Z (26 interviews with Liverpool residents about life here: great mix, great stories, great perceptiveness, and hugely enjoyable) and Matthew Buckingham's Obscure Moorings (an engrossing film about an old seaman who retires to a boarding house on the waterfront and spends his days wandering the Mersey banks and docks).

    Obscure Moorings is based on a Herman Melville tale (FACT tell us); the old seaman finds himself thrust into a world which has been transformed by industrialisation, economic change and a shift in world politics. Buckingham places the sailor in the new Liverpool docklands - 'an almost invisible area, yet one that perpetuates the city's centuries-old role in world trade'. It's a bit like a Patrick Keiller film in that respect, a slo-mo meditation on contemporary economic realities set among container stacks and cranes, the difference being the lack of commentary here: the old sailor is so taciturn that when he walks into a room he creates tense silences all around him.

    Obscure Moorings loops, imperceptively, so it's impossible to determine where the filmmaker begins and ends it. If it bothers you then you have to choose your own ending. Having watched it through twice I decided on the lengthy shot which Buckingham takes through the rear window of a train slowly leaving Lime Street. It made me think just how long those railway tunnels are which connect the centre of town to daylight. Usually that thought comes when waiting impatiently to disembark after a long day's journey, wanting to get home. Buckingham's beautifully-captured reverse angle made me think of it altogether differently: that leaving Liverpool takes a long, long time.