The Long Day Closes is writer-director Terence Davies’ recollection of his late-childhood in 1950s Liverpool. Premiering in 1992 in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, it reportedly received a 10-minute standing ovation (but, for what it’s worth, was awarded nothing). The Criterion Collection has honored Davies’ deeply personal film with a new Blu-ray edition. It’s a film about memory and nostalgia, at once commonplace and dreamlike. The production team invested a great deal of painterly detail in order to realize Davies’ vision of his youth, as seen through the eyes of a boy named Bud (Leigh McCormack).
Clocking in at a tight 85 minutes (that’s including four minutes of opening credits against a static shot of a flower bouquet), The Long Day Closes drifts by at an oddly languid pace, driven steadily by its own unique rhythm. Honestly, depending on the highly subjective perspective of any given viewer, it will likely either be seen as either hypnotic or boring (maybe a mixture of both). Rather than a conventional plot, a series of recreated memories comprises the very loose narrative. Bud tries to come to terms with his newly-discovered homosexuality, interacting with members of his family in a sometimes alienated manner. If you’re not actually looking for it, the element of Bud’s gayness might even slip right past. Sexuality is not necessarily the central theme of the film (though once one is aware of it, Bud’s slow realization that he’ll not experience a love life akin to that of his siblings is unmistakable). If anything, it’s music and cinema that shapes Davies’ stylized recreation of his past.
Bud begs his mother for money to go the movies at every opportunity. Audio snippets from films such as The Magnificent Ambersons pepper the soundtrack like bits of narration (the famous 20th Century Fox fanfare is even heard early on, set against a shot of a brick wall). These film-related samples, if you will, combine with a vast array of tunes (like Nat King Cole singing “Stardust”) to convey a sense of time place specific to Bud’s life. Marjorie Yates plays Bud’s widowed mother. Along with actors portraying siblings, school teachers, and peers, McCormack and Yates maintain an unaffected air of naturalism. If it must be shoved into a standard genre, Long Day would have to fall under that most generic category of ‘drama.’ But its acute lack of traditional dramatic tension is exactly what might lead some viewers to wonder what all the fuss is about.
I must confess, that’s exactly how I felt about The Long Day Closes upon first viewing. Because I have the utmost respect for The Criterion Collection, I struggled to understand why they chose to include such a film in their catalog. I will say that even after a second viewing and an exploration of the various supplemental features, I wonder if Davies’ particular set of memory fragments was in fact worthy of memorializing in a feature film. Davies’ audio commentary, during which he’s joined by cinematographer Michael Coulter, goes some way towards justifying the deliberately stagnant pacing and near-total absence of what general audiences consider to be storytelling.
Still, on a personal level I found my mind wondering at times back to my own childhood. Surely I could string together a series of key images and encounters and pair them with pieces of music and film narration, creating a sort of visually-enhanced mix tape to represent my youth. I say this simply because Davies apparently sought to avoid including any outwardly monumental events. There’s sort of a dry-eyed, almost emotionally-flattened ambience to Davies’ vision. Everything we see is just there, without humor, without forced metaphors, without overt sentimentality. I can’t be alone in selfishly imagining that a movie of my childhood would certainly be more entertaining than this, because nothing in particular is shown to actually happen throughout The Long Day Closes. Yet, in the end, Terence Davies—assisted by a team of skilled technicians—is the one who actually committed his memories to film and shared them with us.
Speaking of the technicians, their work has been restored to perfection by Criterion. As explained in the booklet, this new 2K digital transfer was made using an original 35mm interpositive. The transfer was supervised by both Davies and DP Coulter, who discuss the “bleach bypass” process used for Long Day in the commentary. The end result is a higher contrast image and desaturated colors. The look is more stylized and evocative of films from the period in which Long Day is set. Criterion’s transfer offers an image less sharp than modern viewers are accustomed to, yet this slight softness is by design. The source print was obviously in great shape, too. The uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack is clear as a bell, important for a film in which music plays such a significant role.
In addition to the aforementioned audio commentary (recorded in 2007), the supplemental features include an episode of The South Bank Show, featuring Terence Davies, that aired in advance of Long Day’s premiere. There are new interviews—one with production designer Christopher Hobbs, the other with executive producer Colin MacCabe—that further shine a spotlight on the technical detail lavished upon Long Day. All the supplements are doubled on the included standard DVD. Lastly, film writer (and author of a forthcoming book about Terence Davies) Michael Koresky contributes a lengthy, insightful essay in the booklet.
It could be argued that The Long Day Closes is a series of carefully-staged memories that are too ordinary and banal to deserve immortalization. Yet here they are, in a well-crafted Criterion Collection edition that provides ample evidence of how many people have been moved by Davies’ work. Daringly unconventional, The Long Day Closes is a film that warrants repeat viewings in order to fully absorb.
Photos: The Criterion Collection