For Judge Jason Panella, when a long day closes, a long night is about to begin.
"Love is now the stardust of yesterday, the music of the years gone by." -Nat King Cole
Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is one of those filmmakers whose films I'd known about for years but, for whatever reason, never had an opportunity to explore at length. (I'll blame it on the fact that many of his best-known films were either available on crummy DVDs, crummy VHS, or crummily expensive UK versions.) Davies's films regularly show up on "best English movies of all time"-type lists, an achievement made even more impressive by the fact that the director has only released a handful of feature films in the four decades. With their release of The Long Day Closes, the Criterion Collection wonderfully remasters one of Davies's best-loved films and makes it easily accessible for film lovers.
Facts of the Case
Largely autobiographical in nature, The Long Day Closes focuses on Davies stand-in Bud (Leigh McCormack, in his sole acting role), an 11-year-old growing up in Liverpool, England in the 1950s. He's surrounded by doting siblings, a caring mother (Marjorie Yates, Wetherby), and neighbors who regard him with warmth. Yet Bud still feels like an outcast at home and in the world, his only refuge behind the doors of the local cinema.
Before he turned his eyes to several high-brow literary adaptations, Terence Davies's early career as a filmmaker was focused primarily on himself. With a trio of shorts (now collected as The Terence Davies Trilogy), 1988's full-length Distant Voices, Still Lives, and The Long Day Closes, Davies explored all the formative moments in his young life: his childhood in Liverpool with an abusive father and kind mother, his burgeoning homosexuality, and the joy that film gave to him as he struggled toward adulthood. The Long Day Closes is the most narrowly focused of the films he made during this period, a film that lingers on the few happy memories of childhood while acknowledging that growing pains and melancholy were waiting in the wings.
Instead of relying on traditional storytelling, Davies fills The Long Day Closes with music and images that lack any narrative sinew. This isn't to say the movie is chaotic, by any means—Davies is a graceful director, and the film is meticulously paced. Scenes flow into each other without really telling a story: Bud, Davies's on-screen surrogate, skips along the rain-coated street; the camera captures light dancing across a rug in the family's home; Bud spies a shirtless laborer outside and averts his eyes in shame. The movie skips between the four places Bud's life revolves around: school, church, home, and the local cinema. Davies hints at some of the pains Bud will soon experience from the latter two, especially in light of the boy's sexuality, but most scenes play out with equal amounts of joy and sadness. Bud is lonely and withdrawn most of the time, yearning to be a part of the world around him while also realizing he'll forever be an outsider. The Long Day Closes fills these memory snapshots with the music that filled Davies's boyhood memories: popular songs and snippets of dialogue from films, hymns, half-remembered verses from parlor songs. The music blurs together as seamlessly as the visuals do, and it all amounts to a sort of visual and aural painting of Davies's childhood. The Long Day Closes is really unlike any film I've seen, and it might be the best movie about memory. The way Davies captures the fleeting moments—he stretches and folds time, weaves in daydreams and nightmares—reminds me of how I recall little moments from the past. So while it's a deeply personal film (I felt like a voyeur in a few spots), it's also incredibly universal and moving.
The Criterion Collection's dual format release of The Long Day Closes is altogether excellent. Davies and DP Michael Coulter supervised the newly remastered Blu-ray transfer. As a result, the 1.85:1/1080p widescreen presentation is lovely. The movie is filled with sharp contrasts and gently desaturated hues, and this new transfer looks incredible (especially in comparison to stills from some of the older UK DVD releases). Visually, it's a wholly unique film and worth seeing in this format. The LPCM 2.0 stereo track is just as good as the image—the movie is packed with music, and it (and the scant dialogue) is consistently vivid. Criterion packs some excellent extras in as well: a 1992 episode of British arts program The South Bank Show that features Davies (47:24); 2013 interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe (13:54) and production designer Christopher Hobbs (20:28); a trailer for the film (2:47); a commentary track with Davies and Coulter; and an essay from film critic Michael Koresky. The release also includes a DVD version of the film with all of the above extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The unconventional presentation of The Long Day Closes will undoubtedly alienate some viewers, especially those hoping for a film with some sort of firm narrative. The film has a very specific cadence that is at odds with what most folks are used to. And let's face it, even if you're into art films you might find this a pretentious bore. If you're not familiar with Davis or his films, I'd recommend going into The Long Day Closes with some measure of patience.
The Long Day Closes is movie magic at its finest, and the Criterion dual-format package is as good as it gets.
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