Eroding memories of childhood

Issue 

The Long Day Closes
Written and directed by Terence Davies
Kino, Melbourne, early December
Reviewed by Mario Giorgetti

Unlike his acclaimed and equally personal film Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes, possibly the last in his series of personal ruminations, has no clearly traceable plot. However, it has a unifying structure in its stylised visual narrative. This tells a story which is often more palpable than some told by means of the standard dramatic paradigm that tends to prevail in Hollywood.

In this autobiographical series of remembered impressions of childhood, filtered through a distance of 37 years, Davies reconstructs his own private and precious reality of early life in Liverpool, England, during 1955 and 1956. It seems to be an attempt not so much to recapture a magical time as to try to understand what it was in the child and his world that formed the man.

Although Davies insists that his own childhood was a happy one, we sense that Bud, the child in the film, played by Leigh McCormack, is not entirely happy: the father is absent; the mother, though ever present and constant in her affection, is cocooned in her own adult world of working-class domesticity, quite detached from his. The rest of the family, unmemorable in their ordinariness, come and go without causing him either trauma or particular joy.

But it is disturbing to see Bud being bullied at school. His only friend does not seek his company, and no-one seems to notice or care that the boy is having a hard time of it. He is left to deal with these traumatic experiences by himself, without a father figure or role model to give him strength and direction.

There are undertones of incipient homosexuality and the feeling that something quite vital — perhaps a strong sense of individual identity and place in the world — is missing. Bud is a loner, and one feels that he would be socially retarded through lack of human contact were it not for the routine of home, church, school and, most important, the local cinema, where all kinds of dreams become his preferred reality.

A beautifully composed collage of iconic images, The Long Day Closes is not self-indulgent. It looks beyond its stylised family-album aesthetic to the theme of the passage of time and its inevitable erosion of childhood memory which, happy or not, is always cherished.