Reviews of Distant Voices, Still 5 .
INDEX] QLLSTINGS 22
Lives saw Terence DaVies acclaimed ; ' ,
as the greatest British director since the heyday of Powell and Pressburger. Now, with the release of The Long Day Closes, Trevor Johnston attempts to square this heavyweight reputation with the man behind it.
Neurotic, a little precious and extremely entertaining in equal measure, Terence Davies‘s complete worship of Doris Day is as likely to come over strongly in conversation as his undoubted dedication to his art. Growing ever more self-consciously camp as the enthusiasm level rises, sighs of ‘She‘s just so wonderful!‘ tend to j punctuate detailed assessments of Ingmar Bergman and earnest fulmination on the symphonies of Vaughan Williams. However, it is precisely this broad assimilation ofculture high and low that shapes what we see on screen, where his films bring a new intensity of poetic expression to the most mundane source material.
‘Whether or not you read music is beside
the point, you hear it with your inner ear. ;
Film, I think, has that same inner geography.’
Davies left school at fifteen for an accountant‘s office and provincial drama school before the British Film Institute gave him the modest funds in 1974 to make the short Children, the initial instalment in the sel lexplanatory Terence Davies Trilogy. Like all his work to date, The Long Day Closes draws on his own experiences of Catholic family life in working-class Liverpool during the 408 and 505, but this most recent offering differs from its predecessors in tone and content by almost exclusively focusing on the dreamin idyllic l days of his boyhood. i
‘I‘m the youngest of ten, with seven surviving,‘ i he explains, ‘so the story from my end of the family
was different. It was after the death of my father. which I dealt with in Distant Voices. that we really began to live. At the age ofseven I was taken to the cinema to see Singin‘ In The Rain, my first ﬁlm.
and for the next few years — not that we had anything- I was just incredibly happy. Although I j was quite a solitary child, I was loved within my family, and our street was my entire universe. I i thought I’d always be ten or eleven and we‘d all
stay that way forever and ever. It was a huge shock ‘
The Long 0a to me when I realised people do actually grow up. get married and move away. Then having to go up to a very rough Liverpool secondary school. where I was beaten up every day for four years. totally shattered my little paradise.‘
In conventional linear narrative terms, there‘s little in the way ofdramatic action in The Long Day Closes but. as the young protagonist drifts between home and the cinema. church and school. the film‘s panoply of tiny but significant details reveals the inner life of the artist-to-be. With a carefully chosen soundtrack boasting classic movie sound-bites from The Magnificent Ambersons to Kind Hearts and (.‘oronets, and an array of music ranging from the swoony opening tones of Nat King Cole's Stardust to the eponymous Victorian choral piece that ends the film. the result is an 82-minute memory rush of unique and inspirational richness. A film that no one else but Terence Davies could possibly have made.
Art director Chris Hobbs (Derek Jarman‘s regular designer) re-created the long-demolished streets of Davies‘s childhood in the more controllable filmmaking environment ofthe small London studios at Rotherhithe. The completed film‘s evocative, washed-out cinematography, rigorous sense ofcomposition and careful camera movement confirm The Long Day Closes as a further honing of the powers ofthis most European-inﬂuenced British moviemaker. Yet despite the fact that his meticulously prepared screenplays have every single shot marked out months in advance of arriving on the set, Davies still finds it difficult to talk with real precision about how he seeks and achieves his cinematic effects.
‘Certainly, the visual style helps give meaning to what the audience is watching. but it‘s not easy to say exactly how that meaning is finally achieved.‘ he reﬂects. ‘Why should a slow track feel better than one that‘s at double speed? Why should a 96 frame dissolve feel better than one that‘s 48 frames long? I don‘t know, I have to say. but I know it when it feels right. The cinema‘s like music in this respect, you respond to it in a visceral way. Whether or not you read music is beside the point. you hear it with your inner ear. I mean, in
y Closes: ‘an 82-
} understood it. Film, 1 think. has that same inner . geography.‘
in communicating with the audience. In this case.
I good deal of the weight of the film. his every 2 gesture apparently scrupulously supervised by the : director. ‘Casting is crucial — you‘ve got to believe
j performance, but it should be so close to the real thing it should appear to be natural and real.
that not all viewers might be personally attuned to
‘ 0N FOLLOWING PAGES: MEDICINE MAN 0 VOYAGER O FILM ROUND-UP
minute memory rush oi unique and inspirational richness' Vaughan Williams‘s Sixth Symphony, you don‘t think “Ah. that‘s a nice bit oftonality there!“ because your inner harmonic sense has already
Even though he exercises a notable degree of control over every aspect of his projects, Davies does agree that the actual performances are crucial
Liverpool schoolboy Leigh McCormack carries a
in them,‘ says Davies. ‘Ifyou‘rc trying to re-create ordinary people, the reason people are ordinary is because they don‘t act. The actors have to give a
You‘re asking people to be and not act.‘
Such words are further indication ofjust how close Davies remains to the celluloid he creates. The identification between the man and his movies 2 is so complete that even though plans are afoot to tackle a contemporary New York thriller as his next picture, he seems to take any praise or , criticism ofthe latest on quite a personal basis. As i he says, ‘If it‘s felt. it‘s true‘. and perhaps it‘s this i profound investment in his work — combined with his natural filmmaking gift — which finally accounts for its singular emotional resonance. ;
‘Whatever you say about it, The Long Day 1
Closes is truthful.‘ he reckons, responding with characteristic sharpness to the me rest suggestion
the film’s very inwardness. ‘I did stay in that house a lot. I did stay close to my mother. I was a solitary child. preople aren‘t interested in that, then it‘s more than them not liking my film, it obviously touches me deeply. But I won’t change it. That‘s my style. That‘s how I saw it. That‘s how it’s made. Instead of the obvious drama of Distant Voices. it's a much quieter film. It‘s about small things happening, small failures and disappointments. That‘s a lot harder to do in a way, so I think this film is actually the best thing I‘ve ever done.‘
The Long Day Closes opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhoase on Sun 24 May.
14 The List 22 May—4 June 1992