So much of Terence Davies' work is autobiographical in nature that to watch his films is to feel as though you know him, that you are experiencing a particular moment in time through his eyes. And in his 1992 masterpiece, 'The Long Day Closes,' Davies expands on the themes he developed four years earlier with 'Distant Voices, Still Lives' by adapting his emotionally scrupulous and often impressionistic style into another tale of a working-class family in Liverpool; this time told exclusively through the eyes of Bud (Leigh McCormack in his only acting role), a young boy caught up in the exultant joys of childhood, and experiencing the first pangs of disappointment that come from a future that's uncertain to everyone but the filmmaker himself.
From the first moments of the film, wherein a still life of roses slowly wilts as the film's credits roll, to the camera moving slowly down a rain-soaked alleyway, resting finally at the doorstep of a now dilapidated structure that serves as the framing of Bud's near-halcyon days spent in the same modest domicile with his doting mother and older siblings, Helen (Ayse Owens), John (Nicholas Lamont), and Kevin (Anthony Watson), Davies crafts an immensely beautiful and intricate collection of moments that rely almost entirely on sensations of sight and sound. These are the moments of Bud's childhood – a time Davies has recalled taking place between the ages of seven and eleven, before the onset of puberty, and after his abusive father had passed away, affording the family a chance to finally find some peace. They are snippets of memory, tiny clusters of emotion and sentiment pocketed away in replayed for our enjoyment.
When talking about the structure of the film, the term experimental may be appropriate, as 'The Long Day Closes' eschews any semblance of story or plot, in favor of focusing on bits of Bud's (and by that, Davies') consciousness. This allows Davies the opportunity to wholly exude the jubilance of seeing a film in 1950s Liverpool, going to a street carnival with his family, participating in Friday night rituals, and dancing with neighbors to ring in the New Year. But it also grants Davies the opportunity to emphasize the unique dread being bullied at school and called a "fruit",which ties into Bud's emergent homosexuality – stressed early on in the film when his eyes linger too long on a shirtless bricklayer, who gently, if teasingly acknowledges – and the subsequent feelings of marginalization, loneliness, and isolation that stem from that.
While the film focuses on Bud's sense of being an outsider – sometimes within the context of his own family – another important facet of the film is time; it is, in many ways, a central theme of the picture, as hints of Bud's days of happiness and contentment coming to an end are as prevalent as his raw enjoyment of them. And yet, the significance of the role time plays does not extend to the concept of chronology. Here, Davies folds the past, present, and future into a mélange of interconnected moments of an uncertain timeframe; we know its Bud's childhood, but scenes depicting Christmastime, summer, and winter again pass with the same unpredictability as the moments that are strictly of Bud's imagination. In one instant, hands emerge from shadows to grasp the sleeping boy's head, while in another, the patriarchal indifference of his schooldays are delightfully interrupted by the spray of the ocean, as he envisions an enormous ship sailing past. The film takes these detours into the mind of its protagonist, as a way of delving deeper into the only point of view there is for the audience to take their information from – which is, essentially, that of Terence Davies. Such incredible depth generates a feeling that the movie exists only in a series of specific instances; there is no build-up, no sense of a definite beginning or end – just fragmented experiences being replayed in the exact moment they occurred.
Of course, this intricate emotional landscape wouldn't be nearly as remarkable as it is, if it weren't for Davies' keen eye, immaculate attention to detail, and flare for creating a sumptuous cinematic experience with luxuriant visuals, and, perhaps best of all, a dazzling sense of when and where to place his absurdly well-thought musical choices that often create a striking contrast with the images being depicted on-screen. Songs like Doris Day's infectious 'Tammy' play while Bud once again finds himself isolated and alone, after his older siblings leave home on a bike ride with friends, or in the beginning of the film, as Nat King Cole sings 'Stardust' over the image of a rain-soaked alleyway. But that's not all that Davies manages to conjure up; he also inserts segments of film dialogue to better highlight Bud's love of the cinema, which is, as one scene points out, as intrinsic a part of his self as church or school. So when Orson Wells' booming voice echoes across a scene rife with melancholy, it suddenly feels all the more poignant, wistful, and affecting.
The film wraps as its title would suggest, but not without leaving the viewer with a sense of uncertainty about where it is Bud will be headed, now that his moment with the audience is done. Time is once again the prevailing factor, as 'The Long Day Closes' instills a sense that, try as one might to stay in his or her head, reliving those moments of happiness, beauty, and tenderness, the world moves on and opens up to indescribable experiences yet to be had, and perhaps, recalled fondly one day themselves.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Long Day Closes' comes from Criterion with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc + DVD combo pack. The spine is numbered 694, and along with the two discs, there is also a substantial booklet featuring a wonderful essay by film critic Michael Koresky, and information regarding the 2K transfer of the film.
The newly restored 2K digital transfer that 'The Long Day Closes' has received could be thought of as giving new life to the film. The incredible cinematography, set design, and overall tone of the film all benefit a great deal, as clarity is considerably greater than in previous releases, and the contrast level delivers deep, rich blacks that accentuate the image's clean, well-defined edges and substantial detail. Additionally, the color of the film – a hint of gold in many spots – now feels more subtle and refined, rather than the somewhat unyielding presence it was before.
Fine detail is strong, but most impressive in close-ups. There is still some hint of grain in the picture that actually plays well with the tone of the film, and actually winds up being more of an attribute than anything else. Skintones are well balanced across the board, as are the other colors, even though there seem to be few to choose from in 1950s Liverpool. Certain scenes stand out better than others, but that seems to be more a factor of the cinematography highlighting specific characteristics and making them stand out. Night scenes, in particular, look very good. In fact the New Year's Eve segment comes across as a fine example of the image's high contrast and detail. Some scenes look softer than others, but they are mercifully few and far between.
Overall, this new transfer offers the film a chance to show off just how lush and warm and beautiful it often is.
The LPCM 2.0 sound remarkably good here. 'The Long Day Closes' is very reliant on supple audio and the mix here does not disappoint. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand, but also balanced quite well with the other elements of the sound design, which primarily consist of the film's musical score, and the music chosen by Davies to highlight many portions of his film. The atmospheric elements are mostly subtle, but still manage to generate a sense of immersion in places that need it most. Classrooms, churches, and even swimming pools all carry with them a true sense of place that, again, is augmented by the score and use of music or voice-over.
The sound here is just fantastic; there's nothing to complain about. The source isn't that old, so there's no reason for it to have any problems, and thankfully this lossless mix finds a way to take already great sounding audio and make it better.
'The Long Day Closes' is an incredibly intimate portrait of Terence Davies' own experiences, and yet through his skill as a filmmaker, he manages to make so many of those indelible moments of time feel universal and entirely relatable. Infinitely deep, rich, and contemplative, this is the kind of film you want to watch over and over again; it just has that kind of tremendous emotional impact. With a stunning transfer, wonderful sound, and some great extras, this one is highly recommended.