Mesmerising And Magical,
This review is from: The Long Day Closes  [DVD] (DVD)
This 1992 film written and directed by Liverpool-born film-maker Terence Davies is something of a companion-piece to his Distant Voices, Still Lives (made four years earlier), stylistically similar and in this case focused on the life of 11-year old Bud (Leigh McCormack) and his Liverpudlian family (and is based on Davies' own memories and experiences of childhood). As with DV,SL Davies again paints an evocative and hypnotic picture of life as a working class Catholic in post-war Britain via series of vignettes (rather than a strong narrative) - this is not a film for anyone wanting anything resembling Hollywood multiplex 'thrills' - and, with his almost unique sense of how to combine the visual and aural, (for me at least) succeeds in producing a masterly, intimate little gem of a film.
Opening to a rousing musical fanfare, before Michael Coulter's camera pans to a rain-sodden, run-down Liverpool terraced street, Davies' film is never less than a mesmerising watch, full of long slow pans and extended shots of Bud and family members, his mother (Marjorie Yates), brothers John (Nicholas Lamont) and Kevin (Anthony Watson), and sister, Helen (Ayse Owens) and shot in suitably austere and muted colour (really quite close to the perhaps more 'natural' black-and-white of the era). Equally memorable is Davies' use of music (and sound) to evoke memories of the era - peppering his film with songs such as If You Were The Only Girl In The World and Me And My Shadow, and aural clips from films such as The Ladykillers, The Magnificent Ambersons and Kind Hearts And Coronets. Viewing the world predominantly through the intimacy of Bud's eyes, Davies gives us a whole series of nostalgia trips, including: bonfire night, fairgrounds, nightmares, Xmas, Auld Lang Syne, nuns, school playgrounds, the cane, bullying, women gossiping, a black man at the door, cocoa, BBC Home Service, nit inspections, washing hair in the sink, the process of erosion, the crucifixion, coal cellars and family sing-songs.
Acting-wise, Davies' cast are uniformly excellent and naturalistic. McCormack is a real discovery as the endearing, but increasingly frustrated and lonely, Bud ('Aw, go on mam'), whilst each of Yates, Lamont, Watson and Owens deliver simple, realistic portrayals of real people. Arguably, though, the acting honours are stolen by Tina Malone in her depiction of the frumpy, wise-cracking Edna ('I mean you could chop wood with my face, couldn't ya?') and her bantering with husband Curly (the equally impressive Jimmy Wilde), with his penchant for Peter Lorre, Edward G Robinson, etc, impressions.
Ultimately, however, I am left with a stunning visual impression made by Davies' film - the amazing, hypnotic sequence of light on a carpet (of all things!) to George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad (plus the brilliant later use of the sweeping strings of Mahler's 10th symphony), a church statue of Jesus to Burns' Ae Fond Kiss and the mesmerising (that word again) concluding sequence of Davies' film as the remnants of sunlight fade into a cloudy, night sky to the tune of a choral version of Arthur Sullivan's song of the film's title (providing one of my favourite ever film endings).
Comparator films? Outside of Davies' other work, the vignette style, child viewpoint, and obsessions with cinema and radio call to my mind Woody Allen's Radio Days (without quite the comedy, of course). Whatever, for me the film is a masterpiece, surpassing my other favourite Davies works, the aforementioned Distant Voices, Still Lives and House Of Mirth.