There are no more truthful words than these. I adore this film.
This is probably one of the greatest British films ever made. Sadly, the director Terence Davies hasn't been well treated by the industry. He struggles to get films made. Yet, he still persists. His latest film, Of Time And The City is due for release later this year and was quite rightly hailed at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Long Day Closes was his second feature, a sequel to Distant Voices, Still Lives and focuses on his own childhood in Liverpool in the 1950s. It very much shares the look of that first feature with its desaturated colour palette, heavy use of chiaroscuro, dissolves, slow pans and tracking shots. It's all part of Davies attempt to detail memory and the passage of time. Both films have a very leisurely pace but are striking, beautifully composed visual poems to working class ritual and routines. As cinematographer Mick Coulter remarks on the warm commentary with Davies - it has an anthropological quality in its detail, capturing as it does the way people dressed and washed, fixed their hair, behaved and used speech and song. Much of the behaviour you'll see here is now folk memory and it's the vision of a lost childhood that is often painful to see.
The scene where he washes his brother's back is erotically charged as well as a nod to religious parable.I recognise a huge amount of what Davies puts on screen. It's very much about a childhood in the absence of a father where a sensitive young boy is, in the main, brought up by women or relates to women on a different level than he relates to men. The mother, played so fantastically by Marjorie Yates, is the centre of Bud's world and this is complimented by close relationships to sisters, aunts and female neighbours. It's the sort of relationship to female figures I recognise from my own upbringing and I do think it has a specific register with gay men too. The female figures in the story are symbols of warmth, security and fantasy. Davies positions male homosexual desire as a troubling force that disrupts this cosiness. The images of desire, framed by the gay male gaze, take in the labourers Bud watches ('smitten' indeed!) from the window, the further troubling contact with male bodies in the forms of his own brothers as well as the nightmares of an unidentified man seeking to grab him in his dreams (Davies identifies him as his own father in the commentary) and the religious guilt of transposing desire onto the semi-naked crucified Christ. The scene where he washes his brother's back is erotically charged as well as a nod to religious parable.
An idyllic childhood is something that Davies wishes could be maintained and the film is very much about how this can't be fulfilledThe guilt of Bud's burgeoning desire is constantly punished through the film. He spends a miserable time at school being bullied, which is something I never suffered from as a child and which only later affected me in my later teens. An idyllic childhood is something that Davies wishes could be maintained and the film is very much about how this can't be fulfilled. It is the long day that must eventually close and for Davies his gay identity and his Catholic upbringing are the culprits. The rituals of childhood have to give way to those of adulthood and Bud is clearly terrified of that and spends much of the final half of the film trying to cling on to his brothers and sisters who are already departing for the shadowy world of adult relationships. It's heartbreaking.
Bud is clearly terrified of the mysterious world of sexuality and perhaps Davies equates that with his own loss of innocence which is clearly a state he'd rather have retained.The idyll is full of wonderful moments though. Christmas, bringing in the New Year, visits to the fair, street parties and singing. And the soundtrack is full of superb songs and extracts from films that Davies is clearly very fond of; everything from The Happiest Days Of Your Life to The Ladykillers. Amongst the gems of information on the commentary is Davies' observation of the meaning attributed to 'Blow The Wind Southerly' as sung by Kathleen Ferrier on the soundtrack whilst Bud is daydreaming. Davies describes it as a song that is about waiting for the return or arrival of a loved one and he rather sadly comments that no lover has yet arrived into his own life. He has often stated that he hates being gay and that it has been detrimental to his life and I think that does come out of the film and it is a point of view that very rarely gets expressed or understood in the hyper-liberal, media saturated world of today. Bud is clearly terrified of the mysterious world of sexuality and that equates that with Davies' own loss of innocence. I don't agree with the criticism that his films are depressing because of this. There is too much joy invested in the majority of The Long Day Closes - the joy of being a child, the joy of innocence and the joy in fantasy, no better exemplified in Bud's (and Davies') love of musicals and melodrama.
...like certain memories it lingers long in the mind after viewing itFor me, the film is a brilliant example of 'pure cinema'. It's about the memories, internal emotions and feelings of the characters expressed through symbolically visual means and through the intimate performances. There is little dialogue, the narrative isn't linear and the passage of time is expressed through slow pans and dissolves. And like certain memories it lingers long in the mind after viewing it. There is a glow surrounding it, much as Davies might disagree, and for a moment he does allow us access to that lost world of childhood where the palpable states of pain and joy are burnt into our subconscious.
The DVD features a commentary with Davies and his cinematographer Mick Coulter, interviews with production designer Christopher Hobbs and some behind the scenes material of Davies directing (material from a South Bank Show, I believe). The transfer, made from a recently restored HD master supervised by Davies and Coulter, is spotless. It is a little soft but I think that's intentional. More detail might be forthcoming with perhaps a future Blu-Ray release. However, it looks and sounds marvellous.
There's a lovely interview with Terence Davies here at: Movie Mail
Of Time And The City opens on October 9th, in Liverpool.
The Long Day Closes (BFIDVD749 - Certificate PG) Released 23rd July
Cathode Ray Tube The Long Day Closes Terence Davies