Friday, 31 January 2014
The Long Day Closes
The Long Day Closes (2013) dir. Terence Davies
Starring: Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates, Anthony Watson, Nicholas Lamont, Ayse Owens
By Alan Bacchus
Set in Liverpool in 1955-56 Davies puts us into the point of view of 11 year old Bud (McCormack), a thinly veiled version of Davies himself, memories put through a John Ford-like lens of nostalgia. Over the course of the year we see Bud’s life through a seemingly random set of vignettes involving his family, his schoolmates, his church, and the working class milieu of Liverpool. Barely any dialogue is spoken by the child, he simply observes. Hence our experience of the film reminds of John Ford’s great Welsh coaling mining drama How Green Was My Valley or Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, two exemplary films about childhood with remarkable yet near mute performances from the children.
Little connective tissue exists between Bud’s the depiction of the family Christmas traditions, or his memories of corporal punishment at school, minor bullying or the rousing series of songs which seem to guide his life. If anything the narrative throughline is Bud’s faint struggles with isolation amidst the seemingly warm and earthly lifestyle.
We see the romances of his older siblings through his curious eyes, as well as his ostracization at school from his peers. Bud often retreats to cinema to quench his thirst for companionship. Voiceover from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons runs through the film as well as a number of other sights and sounds of cinema connect directly the existence of this film.
The emphasis on music, whether it’s cribbed from a Hollywood film or from his family gatherings or simply carefully selected choral arrangements such as the grandiose Arthur Sullivan piece at the end, aids in the feeling of Bud’s life remembered as a musical.
Davies’ command of the camera is unmistakable, a well honed style singular to him pushes through all his films. Hazy cinematography, centre-framed figures, and slow pace all seem deliberate and measured and thus we never desire to move things along. Somehow Davies makes even the most mundane observance feel like the most important moment to linger on. The opening shot for instance is a rain soaked alley, pushing into a doorway and a staircase. The shot has no characters and reveals nothing, but the composition and careful camera movement draws us in like a storyteller setting the scene. And each of the scenes which make up the scant 80mins of running time are sometimes simply singular compositions with very little going on inside the frame but collectively feel like turning pages of a great book.
A comparison to Malick, both in the amount of films they’ve made, and their visual/aural sensibilities are clear. The reverence of these filmmakers in part exists because each and every film, whether they succeed or not, feels like an artistic gift to us from their own personal heartfelt memories.
The Long Day Closes is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection