The Long Day Closes Review
Terence Davies's first short films, Children, Madonna and Child and Death and Transfiguration, make up a trilogy. So packaged, they are released on DVD simultaneously with The Long Day Closes. Yet they form the opening part of a larger trilogy of films derived from Davies's own life, one continued with Distant Voices Still Lives and concluded with the film under review. But as Distant Voices and Still Lives were two films of sub-feature length, made separately and then joined together, you could see the whole of Davies's work up to this point as a sextet.
The Long Day Closes is thus Davies's first full-length feature (though at under 90 minutes, not a very long one). It feels like a summing up, a drawing together of the material of the previous films. Long Day Closes concentrates on a period – no more than a year - in the mid 1950s, a period Davies was later to describe as the happiest in his life. This took place between the death of his brutal father (dealt with in the Distant Voices half of the previous film) and his arrival at secondary school where he was instantly bullied (which harks back as far as Children) and – in the words of the school lesson we see - “eroded”. As before, we have the cinema as a place of escape and enchantment, and Davies's surrogate (here called Bud, and played by Leigh McCormack) becomes aware of his own homosexuality. We see the strong influence of women in his life, especially his mother (Marjorie Yates). Music is one of the threads that hold people, families and friends, together: popular songs from the time, especially from films. Long Day Closes is a fluid film, as changeable as the memories it is based on, slipping easily from reality to imagination and back again. Davies is a cinematic poet, and his narrative proceeds according to a poetic logic rather than a strictly literal one.
The impression given by the film is one of considerable confidence, even playfulness. The opening sequence features a voiceover from Margaret Rutherford (in The Happiest Days of Your Life) saying “You're not introducing a film”...which is then followed by the 20th Century Fox fanfare. The film is frequently very funny, much of it to do with the characters' withering Scouse wit. Yes the darker material isn't absent: Bud, sleeping in his father's bed after the man's death, dreams/imagines hands reaching out for him, a sequence worthy of a horror film. In one scene, Bud looks out of his window and sees a bricklayer, stripped to the waist, who looks up at him...the first intimation of Bud's sexuality. Later we see Christ (played by the same actor as the labourer) crucified, in a re-enactment of Dali's painting Christ of St John of the Cross, a vivid depiction of the struggle in the central character's heart between the sacred and the sexual.
Davies, with the help of DP Michael Coulter, conjures up some unforgettable images along the way, and makes some possibly over-familiar songs (“Blow the Wind Southerly”, “Tammy” and “The Long Day Closes” among them) seem fresh. This isn't really an actor's film, but I should commend the performances of Leigh McCormack and Marjorie Yates in particular. (Among the supporting cast is Tina Malone, now best known for her role in Shameless.)
You may wonder how much further Davies could go with mining his own life for inspiration. He may have wondered as much himself, as his next two films were adaptations of novels: The Neon Bible, from John Kennedy Toole, in 1995, and The House of Mirth, out of Edith Wharton, in 2000.
When I reviewed Distant Voices Still Lives nearly a year ago, I complained that one of Britain's finest living directors had been unable to make a film for seven years. The highest-profile casualty of this time was his planned adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbons's Scottish classic Sunset Song. However, as I write this in July 2008, we have a new Davies feature film to look forward to: Of Time and the City, his tribute to his native city of Liverpool, to be released later this year.
The BFI's release of The Long Day Closes is a single dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.
The DVD transfer is anamorphically enhanced in the ratio of 1.85:1. The film has a distinct look – for the technically minded, a combination of a bleach bypass process, a coral filter and black nets on the back of the lenses. The DVD is very faithful to this: some details are lost in the shadows, but that's intentional. Davies and Coulter supervised the transfer. The result is a look that evokes the past if not literally recreating it, filtering it through memory.
The Long Day Closes was released with a Dolby SR soundtrack. The BFI's DVD, like its release of the Trilogy, has an uncompressed Linear PCM Stereo soundtrack. And this time, it plays in surround, such as the scenes of rainfall, and much of the music. The music in particular benefits greatly from being uncompressed and sounds wonderful. Subtitles for the hard of hearing are provided for the feature and all of the extras, including the commentary.
That commentary is a double act featuring Davies and Coulter. Davies talks about the film and the events which inspired it, and Coulter concentrates more on technical issues. There's considerable rapport between the two men and their chat is good-humoured and a pleasure to listen to. We learn quite a bit about Davies's working methods, not to mention his extraordinarily retentive memory.
Two other extras are derived from rushes from a 1992 South Bank Show on Davies, which covered the making of Long Day Closes. In “Behind the Scenes” (8:03) we see Davies working with Leigh McCormack and the camera crew on a shot. “Designing Memory” (3:39) is an interview with production designer Christopher Hobbs, who rebuilt the street where the family lived almost entirely from Davies's memory. These are worthwhile, though I did miss an extended interview of the type that Geoff Andrew conducted on the DVDs of Distant Voices Still Lives and the Trilogy. The final extra on the disc is a trailer for Of Time and The City (2:14).
The BFI's customary booklet features an essay, “The Music of the Years Gone By” by Paul Farley (who wrote the BFI's Modern Classic volume on Distant Voices Still Lives). Also in the booklet is an article by Pat Kirkham and Mike O'Shaughnessy on the film's look, reprinted from Sight & Sound and Raymond Durgnat's review from the same magazine, a brief biography of Davies and a list of credits.
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
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4 out of 10