Leigh McCormack watches you watching his movie, "The Long Day Closes." Credit: The Criterion Collection
'The Long Day Closes' $39.95 The Criterion Collection
Since Kenneth Anger threw them onto his 1964 leather boys-and-motor cars short “Scorpio Rising,” pop songs have been fixtures of movies. Using them is a practice often performed cynically: What better way to give your scene or montage some perhaps unearned oomph by tacking on a famous tune, in turn borrowing (or even stealing) some of its essence?
There aren’t many who use existing music in genuinely inventive ways. One who does is Terence Davies, the delightfully curmudgeonly British stylist. In his films, like 2012’s Rachel Weisz-starring affair drama “The Deep Blue Sea,” music is used to summon up a bygone era. Some of Davies’ films, including the newly Criterionized “The Long Day Closes,” from 1992, are nearly wall-to-wall period music, submerging viewers in a time that survives only in minds, sounds and images.
But it isn’t mere nostalgia. A longing to revisit a long ago period also brings with it the pain it caused. All of Davies’ films are set in (or at least concern) the past, and usually Davies’ own life. His debut feature, “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” from 1988, concerned an abusive drunken lout of a father (played by the late Pete Postlethwaite). “The Long Day Closes” is a kind of sequel, hanging with 11 year old boy Bud (Leigh McCormack) and his doting, struggling mother (Marjorie Yates) in the mid 1950s. Like Davies, he lives in working class Liverpool, he’s gay (or at least he’s starting to realize that), he's bullied at school and he loves movies.
Even for a memory piece, “The Long Day Closes” is loose. It’s a series of episodes, but even that suggests that more occurs than does. The film is more like fragments of stray recollections, chosen almost at random, like songs from a jukebox. Indeed, Davies is part filmmaker, part DJ, spinning old memories connected — sometimes obviously, sometimes obliquely, for reasons known only to him — to old standards that Davies loves significantly more than the much more famous music that emerged from Liverpool in the ensuing decade. (Davies spends a brief bit in his 2008 documentary "Of Time and the City," another rummage through his home's past, sneering at the Fab Four.)
But the playlist of soothing, sometimes forgotten numbers even includes the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, sneaked into the opening moments, devoid of the massive, spotlight-bedecked logo. Instead it plays over a de-peopled alleyway overrun with rain — our curious entryway into this labyrinth of memory from which it will be tough to escape, even when the film itself closes.
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