Billy Gray

Long Day’s Journey

In Movie Reviews on April 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Terence Davies’ “The Long Day Closes” is short. But the absence of narrative leaves you guessing when the impressionistic remembrance of childhood will, or should, end.  Despite an endearing lead surrounded by charismatic supporting characters and bathed in poised, fitfully striking cinematography, the closing credits come as a pity and a relief.  This is a coming of age movie devoid of saccharine, ham-handed present-day narration elucidating the life lessons distracted viewers missed, and, more impressively, nostalgia to underscore the passage of time and overwhelm the mnemonic portrait.

A pastiche of memory, effortlessly conjured by the mind, is hard to transfer to paper and film. Davies’s recollections wind through and hover over the shambles of post-War Liverpool, where 11-year old Bud (Leigh McCormack) lives in a row house with his kind, wistful Mom (Marjorie Yates), who’s alone for unexplained reasons, though one suspects she’s a war widow, and three significantly older siblings he’d like to count as gallivanting peers. On Christmas and birthdays, the home is bright and boisterous. Otherwise, the dark barely cloaks the squalid. It’s a similar picture outside. The opening shot of a narrow Liverpool street dwells on rubble, while other images revel in tidy independent shops and communal merriment. (The film came out in 1992, when both of these were already near extinction.)

Michael Coulter’s cinematography bathes trash and treasure in equal light, though here the light is refracted through a sustained, dreamlike haze. Subtle, blissfully non-handheld tracking shots roam through alleys and a Catholic school with lash-happy teachers. Gauzy daydream sequences, sparely used, complement the dingy workaday. And a justly celebrated birds-eye-view montage at the end soars above the neatly stacked rows of common people at the movies, church and school.

For Davies, “the pictures” are Bud’s most righteous pursuit, offering the transcendence of mass, the education of the classroom and the community of family at once, and in a venue where you can puff away at a cigarette. But “The Long Day Closes” is not a movie about movies; it’s an impressionistic take on childhood in which the movies provide a lucid take an adulthood for a kid who can’t wait to grow up, with the director’s retrospective adult prism singling out movies as the salvation from a hardscrabble youth.

A cinematic framing captures the fleeting fragments of personal history. That’s not to say “The Long Day Closes” is beholden to studio storyboard logic. The timeframe is only hinted at, the family past murky. Instead, it’s a distillation of film in which the visual trumps the verbally plot-driven. The problem is that the precise, artful imagery lends too much order to the transcendent and the grimy (though escaping the latter through imagined grace would make sense). Fantastical, fever dreamlike interludes include Jesus being nailed to the cross diverge from the film’s graceful realism, but much of the domestic and grade school sequences will strike a chord even with viewers who grew up miles and decades removed from ‘50s Liverpool.

In that sense, “Long Day Closes” inspires a shared recognition and, at its best, a communal, plangent rapture. But the idiosyncratic and lyrical filmic interpretation of universal youth (and the grown-up’s bittersweet flashes back to it) might leave you asking if the movie was too personal or not personal enough.

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