The Long Day Closes
It is sometimes forgotten today that Terence Davies began as essentially an experimental, non-narrative artist, his projects supported by Channel 4 and the British Film Institute.
The Long Day Closes is the culmination of this first period in his work, and it remains his most exquisite and perfectly realised film.
It is almost entirely plotless: no driving conflicts, no suspense or intrigue of any kind. Instead, it is presented as a stylised flow of everyday memories, revisiting the 1950s family childhood of Davies’ alter ego, Bud (one-time-only actor Leigh McCormack, who radiates soulfulness).
Fleeting visions of romance and a budding queer sensuality, stoked by audio clips from classic Hollywood movies and by the angelic sound of British hymns, are counterposed to stark images of serial regimentation in school or at church. A series of dissolves linking overhead, mobile crane shots of these gloomy institutional ‘frames’ is an indelible moment of cinema.
The contrast with Davies’ previous Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) is enormous: now that the inscrutable, violent patriarch is absent, the boy is free to imagine, to daydream, to slowly discover the inner world of music, cinema and sexuality that will shape his adult life.
Like John Boorman’s more heterosexually inclined Hope and Glory (1987), it is a paean to feminine culture and its delicate but resilient influence on an artist’s burgeoning sensibility.
© Adrian Martin September 2021