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Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Cultural Capital of Europe

I've written to my brother asking him to write something on this, he's so much better at it than I am. Now Edinburgh as the Athens of the North, this I can buy, but Liverpool? As one who packed my bags and got the bus south - looking for culture, which, by the way I still am - I don't see the joke. But perhaps that's just what it is. We are, after all, famous for our sense of humour. Nice one, now I get it. Paul can still remember those gilded mansions of his youthful Golden Age, those large detached houses with the peeling paint, built on the backs of slaving, were already in decay during mine. Maybe that's why we British look at the US and its present hegemonic difficulties with other, 'knowing', eyes. Those who want to get a little flavour of what it was like should consult Distant Voices Still Lives. There was after all the Walker Art Gallery, the Cavern, and those Ferries - with adolescent girls in pumps and bobby socks - Across the Mersey. I always did prefer Brighton Rock.

For much of its 20th century decline, the proud, historic port of Liverpool found itself facing the wrong way, isolated from Continental Europe on the Britain's west coast. In 50 years, the city's population halved. Yesterday, however, the geography seemed to shift, as Liverpool was dealt a potential Continental boost in the form of 2008 European Capital of Culture nomination. Old habits die hard in places that have had a rough time - plenty of Liverpudlians had been braced for failure yesterday.

They were ready to assume that - having been kicked in the teeth over the years - they were going to receive another pasting at the hands of Tessa Jowell, the genteel culture secretary, and Sir Jeremy Isaacs, metropolitan arts guru. The city council had contingency plans to salvage battered morale by refocusing efforts from 2008 to 2007, the 800th anniversary of King John's granting of a charter to Liverpool in 1207. Instead, as the breakfast news began to sink in, cheers rang through the city's Empire Theatre, and the hugging began. Liverpool had beaten other regional contenders to claim a title previously enjoyed by cities such as Stockholm, Bologna and Lisbon. Sir Bob Scott, chief executive of the Liverpool Culture Company, which led the bid, said it was an important day for the city. "It signals the end of the British view of Liverpool as a basket case and the dawn of a new realisation that there is a great city here."

Liverpool was always a city that had played better internationally than nationally, where it had to contend with prejudice and rumour. "Coming to Liverpool is the only solution," he said. At the Walker Art Gallery, one of the art facilities that most impressed the judges, visitor Peter Digby, from Leeds, had done just that and been surprised by the city. "You think of it as being run down. When I told people in Leeds I was coming they all asked why. But once you get here it's absolutely fantastic." Liverpool's media briefing for the bid - Liverpool. Love the Life - described it as an unconventional, pioneering and unpredictable city. Capital of culture would be the "rocket fuel for progress". The city would be a magnificent advertisement for Britain, it said.

Explaining the decision by the 12 independent judges to select Liverpool, Sir Jeremy, chairman, dismissed the suspicion of some rival bidders that Merseyside's selection was thanks to levels of need rather than existing cultural merits. Culturally Liverpool was the best equipped. "We didn't judge it on who had the most to gain," he said. "We were certainly looking for the city that had the most going for it in terms of culture and the arts," he added. Liverpool's strengths included the magnificence of some of its buildings, its visual arts, the Albert Dock waterfront project and wide community involvement.

Liverpool has about 450,000 people. Its population decline has stabilised, says the city council, and city centre living is rising fast. However, it has European Union Objective One status, a sign of economic need, and although its unemployment rate is the lowest for 30 years, it is still almost 6 per cent. The expected £2bn investment in cultural and tourism infrastructure over the next five years will, it is hoped, create new employment for the workers of the future. Yesterday was a day for celebrating in Liverpool. Now, with the nomination secured, it must begin the hard slog of capitalising on this success.
Source: Financial Times

For the masochists among you here is the Amazon review of the Terence Davies film. Postelthwaite plays the 'dad'. My god, is this one familiar.

For those not familiar with his work, Terence Davies (The Long Day Closes, Neon Bible) is more of a painter than a filmmaker, he just happens to use movies as his paint medium! So, in 'Distant Voices/Still Lives' we have a 'painterly' representation of a working-class family in Liverpool circa 1960. The story is told through the thoughts and memories of the various family members, all with different perspectives. In my subject line, I call this movie a musical. That's because there are many scenes of the characters in pubs or at home, bursting into song, and usually the choice of song reflects the person's feelings at that moment. But these are not sequences like those you see in Musicals. There's no instrumental backing, the people are just singing out loud for their own entertainment & to offset the grim 'kitchen sink' reality of their family life. I'd like to add that although Freda Dowie is listed as the star (and she IS a standout as the Mum), another actor who may be more familiar is the father, played by Pete Postlethwaite (Romeo + Juliet, Brassed Off). Although his character is frighteningly unsympathetic, it is a wonderful performance. So, all in all, probably not everyone's cup of tea, but worth the effort if you want a riveting artistic & emotional experience.

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