The Long Day Closes (1992) *****
Directed By Terence Davies
Starring: Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates
Review By Greg Klymkiw
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. - Chorley and Sullivan
The movies really are everything. They're the stuff dreams are made of. They're magic and memory. They're the 24 frames per second that flicker across the carbon-arc bulb that throws moving pictures up onto a glorious screen of silver that in turn bounces back into our hearts and minds through our eyes. They're the warmth and solace we need, infusing our lives with pure, unadulterated joy. They're music for our soul.
And, they are perfection in an imperfect world.
Terence Davies, one of the world's greatest living filmmakers, proves this time and time again with each new work. Even when his films delve into the darker corners of the human heart as in his harrowing first feature Distant Voices, Still Lives with its horrific sequences of physical abuse upon wife and child at the hands of the late, great Pete Postlethwaite or his perfect adaptation of Edith Wharton's genteel expose of savagery amongst the upper crust society of turn-of-the-century New York in The House of Mirth, Davies always finds a way to turn the magic of movies into a stylistic salve.
The Long Day Closes, however, might be Davies' purest expression of joy. His second feature film is a dazzling tone poem that recounts the life of young Bud (Leigh McCormack) and the beginnings of his obsessive and passionate love affair with the movies and burgeoning sexuality. Set against the backdrop of a grey Liverpool lower middle class neighbourhood, Bud continually seeks joy and solace - first in family, but secondly (and with equal fervour), the movies.
The notion of watching people watching movies might seem akin to watching someone hog a really fun video game and being forced to watch them play, but Davies so expertly weaves the process and joy of the movies into the simple narrative that I can think of no other film that comes close to fully capturing - on film - what it means to love film.
Part of the picture's success in this is taking Bud's perspective. If there is a narrative thread in this extremely poetic film, it is a child's awakening sense of himself within a world that will, in many ways, always view him as an outsider and, in equal measure, a young man who will yearn to be a part of the world that he knows he'll always be somewhat outside of. There are, of course, the deep feelings of warmth Bud feels for his almost saintly mother (Marjorie Yates) and the happy family sing-songs, but mostly it's the moments which feel clearly like cinematic renderings of memory - rain dappled alleyways with faded movie posters affixed to the brick walls, sitting in the local cinema as light pours from the projection booth backlighting Bud with as much warmth as the light from the screen bounces back and bathes his glowing face.
Then, there is the sequence in the film that nobody ever forgets where the camera is framed upon the gorgeous patterns of a living room carpet as the sun pours through the window and dapples the fabric - always shifting and dancing with the ever-changing daylight - all in that magical perspective that all children must surely have experienced on lazy days, staring intently at those things of beauty and simplicity that are always there, but that are also so easily taken for granted.
There are, as with any film by Davies, moments of melancholy and downright sadness, but what finally always lifts us and allows us to soar with both the filmmaker and his main character are the simple, beautiful and heart-achingly joyous shreds of time mediated through the pure magic of cinema.
And yes, death, is part of this joy - its regenerative process always present and finally enveloping the film during its concluding sequence of a full moon upon an ever-shifting night sky and the voices - seemingly from heaven - as they sing the lamentations as composed by Henry Chorley and Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and we are carried to the heavens by Davies's haunting images as we feel a kaleidoscope of emotions.
It's a beautiful film.
"The Long Day Closes" is available on a stunning new Criterion Collection dual format DVD/Blu-Ray package complete with an astounding restored 2K digital film transfer supervised by director Terence Davies and director of photography Michael Coulter, an extremely valuable commentary track by Davies and Coulter (easily up there with the very best Scorsese commentaries), a terrific British TV documentary on the film featuring interviews with Davies, footage from the film’s production, and interviews with other members of the cast and crew, all-new interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe and production designer Christopher Hobbs, the film's evocative trailer and a fine essay by critic Michael Koresky in booklet form.