Terence Davies’ The Long Day Closes is a musical in which everything dances except the people. The camera, the light, even the rain has a quality of carefully arranged choreography, and the soundtrack is teeming with songs and music — Debbie Reynolds, Nat “King” Cole, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel waltz, Alfred Newman’s 20th Century Fox fanfare — recalled from the director’s youth, along with snippets of dialogue from old movies. It is a memoir, a reverie, a slightly dingy fantasia on a postwar Liverpool that gives no indication that The Beatles might be lurking around any corner. The Criterion Collection now makes Davies’ 1992 film available in a gorgeous new Blu-ray edition that does justice to every frame.
Leigh McCormack (who never made another picture) stars as Bud, a young Liverpudlian growing up on a street that looks real and yet feels hyper-real, like the backlot set of an MGM movie. While he has several siblings, Bud’s closest relationship is with his mother (Marjorie Yates), and the film largely follows them as it wanders through Davies’ memories. This is no plot-driven yarn, but a series of tableaux that presents the director’s childhood as non-chronological anecdotes that form a portrait of the artist as a young lad. Some of them are exquisite in their dreamlike depiction, but the film is not all sweetness and wonder; there are moments of casual brutality in Bud’s school days that must have made Roger Waters wish that Davies had directed Pink Floyd: The Wall instead of Alan Parker. Fortunately, things never stay sour for long, although the picture is suffused with a bittersweet quality occasionally made more explicit by the dialogue excerpts on the soundtrack of older movies such as Great Expectations and particularly Orson Welles’ narration from The Magnificent Ambersons, itself a sadly knowing remembrance of a time gone by.
The Criterion Blu-ray is a wonder to behold. (As per their new policy, a DVD containing all the same material is included in the package as well, but don’t kid yourself — the high-definition presentation is the only way to fly.) The transfer, supervised by Davies and cinematographer Michael Coulter, does justice to the dark tones of the film’s color palette — it looks like a film rather than a video presentation of a film. The supplemental material includes an episode of the UK TV series The South Bank Show featuring an interview with Davies, and newly-recorded interviews with production designer Christopher Hobbs and executive producer Colin MacCabe. There is also a commentary track with Davies and Coulter, but while there are a couple of interesting tidbits here and there, the track is largely unedifying, with more than a few gaps of silence.
The main attraction, of course, is the film itself, and in this regard Criterion has made a handsome presentation of The Long Day Closes. An uncommonly beautiful autobiographical work, as well as a poetic evocation of the intertwining power of music and cinema and the ways our memories can be filtered through them, Terence Davies’ film is indispensable viewing.