Criterion Collection: The Long Day Closes [Blu-ray]
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Bursting with both enchantment and melancholy, this autobiographical film from celebrated British filmmaker Terence Davies takes on the perspective of a quiet boy growing up lonely in Liverpool in the 1950s. But rather than employ a straightforward narrative, Davies jumps in and out of time, swoops into fantasies and fears, summons memories and dreams. A singular filmic tapestry, The Long Day Closes is an evocative, movie and music–besotted portrait of the artist as a young man.
New, high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray Audio commentary by director Terence Davies and director of photography Michael Coulter Episode from 1992 of the British television series The South Bank Show with Davies, featuring on-set footage from The Long Day Closes and interviews with cast and crew New interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe and production designer Christopher Hobbs Trailer One Blu-ray and one DVD, with all content available in both formats PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Koresky
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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 Bud is lonely and withdrawn most of the time, yearning to be a part of the world around him while also realizing he'll forever be an outsider.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.
Jason Panella, DVD VERDICT
Read the full review at dvdverdict.com
Performances throughout are superb, down to the smallest role. Leigh McCormack gives one of the greatest performance I have ever seen by a young actor, rivaled perhaps only by Christian Bale in Empire of the Son and Hunter McCracken in The Tree of Life. According to IMDB, he has never been in another film. According to director Terence Davies, McCormack wanted to grow up and become a fireman. As Bud in this film, he is the central character and stand-in for the director as a young boy. Marjorie Yates plays his mother in the other central performance. Although she has made few movies, she seems to have been in lots of British television series over the years. (Only in this last viewing did I note that someone in passing and barely audibly addresses her as Mrs. Davies.)
Yesterday I watched the new Criterion Blu-ray edition of the film. It looks absolutely gorgeous. I had suspected that it was, even from the washed-out tapes and imperfect DVD I had seen over the years. The colors of the film are blues, grays, blacks, and browns along with dull yellows. Oddly beautiful. Occasionally there is a startling splash of color: a vivid green door, a bar of red soap. Red brick walls covered with black soot, with only a bit of the red showing through.
Davies and others in the interviews and commentaries stress that this is a “true” story. It is his family, the house where he lived, the street outside, the school, the church (which is the exact same one attended by Davies as a child). The house and street having been destroyed some years ago with no photographs of it, the recreation was based on detailed discussions Davies had with his production designer. It all looks totally “real.” It is not. There are conscious slight exaggerations, and both Davies and his production designer comment on to what and why. However, among other things (see above), the movie is a brilliant depiction of what daily life was like in a poor household in Liverpool in the 1960s.
I could carry on at great length about the use of extant music in the film, but part of the great pleasure is encountering songs and being surprised by them and how they are used. Sometimes they are used in their original form. Sometimes the mother may be singing a popular song of the time while she is going about her daily affairs (many of the songs used were favorites of the director’s mother). Sometimes groups are singing songs at neighborhood parties. Sometimes it is just the music in young Bud’s head. This may suggest to you both the British television and the Hollywood musical versions of Pennies from Heaven as well as other of Dennis Potter’s works. Yes. But I think the use of songs here surpasses even what Potter did. Sit back and relax and let them wash over you. Let the whole experience of this film wash over you.
The plot? Well, what plot? I guess what plot there is depends on whether you are viewing the work as the story of a boy over several years or as the story of one day in his life in which he remembers. If it is the former, it is about a boy moving into a new school and being bullied and made generally unhappy. If the latter, it is about a boy wanting money to go to the movies, getting it, and discovering that the friend he wanted to go with has gone off with another boy, making Bud most unhappy. I think it is both timeframes welded into one. I’ll always remember Dr. Egbert Sydnor Ownbey (yep, that’s his real name) who taught me Shakespeare in college talking about the two time sequences in Othello. One major aspect of the story makes sense only if the action of the play takes place in a brief span of time. Another main thread makes sense only if it is spread out over several weeks or even months. He thought the great genius of Shakespeare was to balance these different time frames so admirably that it matters not to the viewer or reader. I think Davies does something like that with this film. Ray Bradbury once wrote a short story called “All Summer in a Day.” I think he would have liked this movie.
Certainly the film is about erosion of the human spirit. When you see the film, you will understand this clearly because of the way the writer/director underscores it with a classroom lecture. And pay attention to the voiceover in the last sequence in the coal cellar. You see it throughout, the bullying.by peers and authority figures, and the little unkindnesses barely noticeable to those doing them. On this viewing I begin to understand that at least some part of that erosion is perhaps natural. Like wind. Water. And, of course, the mere (!) passage of time on our souls. But I will stick to my guns that the movie is about reclamation as well. Reclaiming the past by dealing with it. And in this case, the reclamation has resulted in the creation of a great work of art. Thank you, Terence Davies.
The film could be a little much, especially in its treatment of Bud's loneliness: there are times when he veers dangerously close to Matt Lucas's "the only gay boy in the village" in his constant self-pity and sorrow. But the highly personal and subjective nature of the film renders all this allowable. Davies is so sure in his decisions and his tone that his romanticization of the past is ultimately proudly affirmed; what is more, he also even deftly deconstructs it as the film proceeds. Criterion's reissue of this film (with great sound and image restoration, and lovely extras) could not be more welcome.