The Long Day Closes (1992), like each of Terence Davies’ nine films, lives and breathes within interior spaces. When Bud (Leigh McCormack), the film’s 12-year-old protagonist, is pictured outdoors, it is an experience fraught with suffering. He is frequently isolated or bullied in the schoolyard. His friend, Albie (Kerl Skeggs), sometimes runs past him on the street where they live and leaves him behind. Bud’s life unfolds indoors – at home with his older siblings, close to his beloved mum’s (Marjorie Yates) side at church, or mesmerised at the cinema. Davies presents these interior spaces as repositories of contentment and security for his alter ego, though not entirely problem-free.
It is impossible to separate Davies’ life from his art. Following the short films that comprise The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983) and his first masterpiece, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), The Long Day Closes extends Davies’ unsentimental exploration of his own childhood. Here, the point of view is firmly Bud’s, and, by default, the director’s. The period depicted in The Long Day Closes – of Bud on the verge of adolescence, the menacing father of the earlier films gone – is considered by Davies to be the happiest of his childhood. It is a time deeply embedded in the family home on Kensington Street in Liverpool, which Davies resurrects and redeems from the dank ruins of history in the film’s opening scenes.
The Long Day Closes follows emotional logic, stitching together non-linear, impressionistic memories of childhood. In arguably its best-known sequence, Davies synthesises the centrality of interior space in Bud’s life through a series of overhead tracking shots. Standing on the outdoor stairs leading down to the coal cellar, Bud grabs the overhead railing and swings. It is a moment of transition: hanging between childhood and adolescence, between outside and in. ‘Tammy’ – the theme song from the 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor (Joseph Pevney), sung by the film’s star, Debbie Reynolds – accompanies him on this journey. As the camera tracks right to left, one interior space dissolves into another – it hovers first above a cinema, where the audience is illuminated by the projector’s stardust, then across a sombre church congregation, and finally over a classroom of boys. At the end, Davies returns to where he began: Bud, at home. But something has changed. When Bud finally stands inside the cellar, crying and alone, the house is derelict again.
Bud’s entire world is condensed here. Who Bud is, and who he is becoming, are expressed in this sequence, as is the suggestion that he must move through these interiors in order to find himself. Davies’ love affair with classic Hollywood films and musicals in particular, is never in doubt. “Can I go to the pictures, mum?” are the first words we hear Bud say. From the opening moments of The Long Day Closes, Davies renders the cinema as an endless source of lush, ecstatic moments of spectacle, escapism and joy. Cinema is Bud’s salvation; it gave Davies his career. But Bud’s relationships with school, church and especially home are far more complicated. While the family home is certainly a refuge, it is also a site of personal conflict.
Davies has frequently spoken of family as both sanctuary and curse: as “the source of everything wonderful and terrible in our lives.”1 The Long Day Closes is focused on the intimacy that exists between Bud and his family, and the respite he finds within their modest home. Attention is repeatedly given to the stillness of the staircase, the buzz of domestic activities and the geniality of social gatherings. Bud especially enjoys being with his sister, Helen (Ayse Owens) – known as “Titch” – and her girlfriends, chatting while they compare nail varnish and perfume before heading out. Davies allows simple scenes between Bud and his mum, as she sings to him or brings his cocoa to him in bed, to stretch out, conveying the deep love Bud has for her. Davies idealises these memories, especially a Christmas dinner, which is transformed into an exquisitely moving tableau.
But there is a more desolate view of this interior space at work too. In most of his films, Davies also sees the home as a place his protagonists are desperate to escape. In The Long Day Closes, we catch the first whisperings of that painful separation. Davies often frames Bud on the margins, as an observer and spectator on life. He is an outsider, left alone at home as his older siblings go out and participate in the world. Bud is constantly posed at windows, watching other people and life unfolding, from a distance: his adored mum, his neighbours celebrating Guy Fawkes Night, his brothers’ burgeoning romances. All are scenes of ‘normal’ life that Bud feels increasingly separated from as he awakens to his homosexuality.
In this way, the home both embraces Bud and magnifies his difference. The centrality of this profound tension in Davies’ memories is underlined very early in The Long Day Closes as Bud watches a handsome, shirtless bricklayer working outside on the house next door. Posed at a window, Bud watches but is then unnerved when the man looks back and winks. Without a word, Davies conveys that Bud is discovering he desires men, as he recedes from the window and slumps against the wall in silent shame. Bud’s interaction with the bricklayer makes him feel different. It is a feeling that will be accentuated when he leaves the security of primary school and is bullied, beaten and called “fruit” at high school; a feeling that won’t be alleviated by the church or prayer.
What Bud is learning, nervously, is that there are vast opportunities for self-discovery in exterior spaces. But he is only able to take tentative steps towards them. The film’s final scene suggests an opening – Bud with his back turned to the camera, neither inside nor outside, but poised on the precipice of something new as he and Albie look out at the enormous, infinite sky, framed like a movie screen. Something is coming to an end, but something else is beginning. There is hope here – in the beam of the moonlight that connects past and present, Bud’s/Davies’ past with his future as a filmmaker. But for now, as the sun goes down on the long day, whatever comes next remains unknown.
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The Long Day Closes (1992 UK 85 mins)
Prod Co: British Film Institute, Channel Four Films, Film Four International Prod: Olivia Stewart, Angela Topping Dir: Terence Davies Scr: Terence Davies Phot: Michael Coulter Ed: William Diver Art Dir: Kave Naylor Prod Des: Christopher Hobbs Set Dec: Karen Wakefield Cost: Monica Howe Mus Sup: Bob Last Mus Dir: Robert Lockhart
Cast: Marjorie Yates, Leigh McCormack, Anthony Watson, Nicholas Lamont, Ayse Owens, Tina Malone, Jimmy Wilde, Denise Thomas, Patricia Morison, Gavin Mawdsley
- Terence Davies, interview with author, 24 July 2016. ↩