Monday Movie: The Long Day Closes, by West Anthony

Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This review of The Long Day Closes originally ran as a home video review.

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.

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.

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