Monday, March 19, 2012

The Long Day Closes













THE LONG DAY CLOSES            A
Great Britain  (85 mi)  1992  d:  Terence Davies

No star is o'er the lake,
Its pale watch keeping,
The moon is half awake,
Through gray mists creeping,
The last red leaves fall round
The porch of roses,
The clock hath ceased to sound,
The long day closes.

Sit by the silent hearth
In calm endeavour,
To count the sounds of mirth,
Now dumb for ever.
Heed not how hope believes
And fate disposes:
Shadow is round the eaves,
The long day closes.

The lighted windows dim
Are fading slowly.
The fire that was so trim
Now quivers lowly.
Go to the dreamless bed
Where grief reposes;
Thy book of toil is read,
The long day closes.

—Henry Fothergill Chorley and Arthur Sullivan, 1868, The Long Day Closes by Arthur Sullivan 2008 Prom ... The King Singers at Royal Albert Hall (2008) on YouTube (4:21) 

A heartbreakingly beautiful work, a memory play turned musical theater, where this impressionistic, Joycean stream-of-conscious Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man piece is unlike anything else you’ll see, though J. Hoberman from The Village Voice called it a “Proustian musical,” it is a follow up to the director’s earlier autobiographical work, DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (1988), the difference being that this is a few years after the death of his father, whose absence allows a wistful happiness.  While it is a family portrait of a distinct period in time in the director’s childhood, namely the mid 1950’s in Liverpool, shown as still life painting over the opening credits, it has an experimental feel, as there’s no real narrative to speak of, while nearly every scene is accompanied by either a TV, movie, or musical reference.  The camerawork by Michael Coulter, however, is near unforgettable, where the transitions between shots, visual and audio are spectacular.  One could easily mistake this for a Michael Powell film, as the meticulous art design is so perfectly rendered, but the yearning, atmospheric mood is all Terence Davies.  While something of a nostalgia piece, the film is more complex, mostly shot in the gloom of the everpresent rain, with 11-year old Bud (Leigh McCormack) staring listlessly out the window, the film reflects his inner thoughts and is a tribute to his recollections.  What’s surprising about this film is how much of it is an audio experience, reflective of an era when so many listened to the radio, when this experience was literally a post-war national pastime.  It’s no accident that even in pubs today one of Britain’s most unique traditions are its own citizens singing popular songs in unison, where seemingly everyone knows the words. 

As the film moves along with elegant dissolves from shot to shot, song to song, sequence to sequence, the audience is following along the interconnected, interior thoughts of Bud, where the screen is aglow with a cinematic visualization of his imagination, literally using 35 different pieces of original music, some in their entirety, where the film received a 10-minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes in 1992.  Jam packed with movie references, seen here on IMDb: connections, Davies uses various songs like time capsules, or personal markers in his life, where we hear opera singers Isobel Buchanan Ae Fond Kiss from The Long Day Closes - YouTube (3:32) or Kathleen Ferrier Blow The Wind Southerly by Kathleen Ferrier 南の ... YouTube (2:23), but also Judy Garland from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) Judy Garland - Over the Bannister (Meet Me in St. Louis ... - Youtube  (1:15) and Doris Day from LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955) Doris Day - At Sundown - YouTube (1:44) singing popular songs from movies.  In one of the more beautiful sequences, his family poses for a WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) picture postcard, where people are constantly in motion, and even though they’re all sitting inside, snow continually falls behind them.  The imaginings of things past have such a haunting immediacy that the film recalls the inner segment of the recent magisterial Terrence Malick work THE TREE OF LIFE (2011), where both blend visual poetry with personal intimacy.

What also stands out is what a perfectly behaved and obedient child Bud is, a Mama’s boy who idolized his mother (Marjorie Yates, a member of London’s Royal Shakespeare Company), often seen holding hands or sitting in her lap as she sings to him, a guy who follows all the rules and does everything he’s supposed to do, yet begins to have second thoughts early in life about the rigidity of Catholicism, where the church shows an extreme intolerance and inflexibility for homosexuality, at odds with his own budding sexual nature.  Rather than receiving a reward for his efforts of devout obedience, the scriptures all but leave him in eternal damnation.  Is it any wonder he would turn to the movies and popular songs for personal refuge?  The evidence of conformity in British life is stunning, where in school or in church they are all expected to play by the rules, as if there’s something to be gained from that.  But there’s no evidence of any reward, nor is there any sign of the insolence and rebellious disobedience seen in American films that suggest a cultural break with the past.  Instead in Davies dreamy but orderly world, being smart, respectful, and polite creates a certain inner harmony, the perfection of which is not matched by the bleak world outside where it’s constantly raining, where young men are sent off to war, and where Catholic boys fall in love with Protestants on the road to both becoming atheists. 

Davies remarkably demonstrates how each of the various social institutions from school, church, home, pub, and theater shaped and changed his life, actually framing his consciousness, where the ingenious way of introducing each sequence is like showcasing a new Broadway number with music, lighting, and elaborate camera movements, with brief pauses between sequences, shot in a sepia tone, where the colors are washed out.  Using snippets of an instantly recognizable Orson Welles narration from THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942), itself a modern exercise in nostalgia, “Back then they had time for everything,” Davies shows how the combining forces of art illustrate the power of the past as a living and breathing force in our lives.  While the movie is not chronologically ordered, it makes sense if one can imagine how the mind can travel from thought to thought, often on emotional impulse, where perhaps the most remarkable scene of the movie is set to Debbie Reynold’s rendition of Tammy:  The Long Day Closes with Debbie Reynolds' Tammy  YouTube (3:51), an extended overhead tracking shot where the constantly inquisitive camera passes Bud alone at home before moving to a crowded movie theater, to a packed church, dissolving into a classroom with an amusing snippet from KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949), coming full circle before the camera finds its way back to where it started, as if its gone all the way around the world where poor Bud is once more isolated and alone, much like he spent a good deal of his childhood.  Davies has a way of bookending his film, where the elegiac opening song lyric “the music of the years gone by” from Stardust - Nat King Cole - YouTube (3:16) seems to match the lamenting tone of the gloriously lyric final sequence, The Long Day Closes (1992) Closing Sequence (4:18), a part song bringing a high minded sense of seriousness to a setting from an earlier epoch.

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