A Quiet Movie. Mildly disappointing in the same way as Deep Blue Sea – Davies casts some of my favorite actresses, and they’re wonderful in his films, and his use of light is simply the best, and there are some very nice words in the dialogue (like “pillory”), but it all seems kinda polite and I never connect emotionally in the way I feel I should. Much better than Sunset Song, anyway.

An episodic biopic of the life of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), with sister Jennifer Ehle (the only good part of Contagion), brother Duncan Duff, and friend Jodhi May (Nightwatching). Spoiler alert for a Terence Davies movie: her heart is full of poetry and yearning but her adult/love life doesn’t turn out very happily.

After an intro sequence where her family is played by younger actors, the movie changes eras, zooming in slowly on each character one at a time, and I was horrified to realize it was morphing the faces of the young actors into the old ones, a technique that I thought was abandoned soon after Michael Jackson’s Black or White video… but a couple seconds later I realized it’s really beautifully done here, and even again at the end, in the biopic-obligatory credits shots where they show the lead actor vs. the real person they’re portraying. The dialogue gets exasperating, but I could watch the actors do their thing forever.

Ehrlich:

Davies has always been as precise with time as Dickinson was with rhyme, and that ineffable sense of rhythm defines several of the standout sequences … The movie is defined by its staccato phrasings, elliptical flow, and opaquely confessional nature … She could have found a husband and moved out, the film suggests, but being a married woman in the 19th Century would have robbed her of what little creative control she was able to maintain over her own life; after all, she had to ask her father for permission to write, and she only did so in the dead of night, when everyone else was sleeping. Davies has said that, “Having your work taken away from you makes you feel like a non-person,” and just as Dickinson couldn’t stand an editor so much as moving a punctuation mark out of place, the filmmaker is too sensitive to survive the destruction of trying to move beyond his comfort zone.

Starring the lovely, ever-suffering Agyness Deyn, who recently played Aphrodite, as Chris. It’s more recognizably a Davies movie than The Deep Blue Sea was, because it centers around a piece of shit domineering father (Peter Mullan of War Horse, Children of Men) for the first half, then he’s dead (a la Distant Voices, Still Lives) so we focus on a husband Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) who might become a piece of shit domineering father – but doesn’t, because he’s shot for cowardice while at war. Opens with Chris’s mom poisoning herself and her young twins because she’s become pregnant again. So it’s basically a domestic horror movie.

Beautiful lighting, and per Davies tradition, some terrific crossfades. I turned on the subtitles half the time to make out the accents… and even then I sometimes have trouble. “I’m going to live on at Blawearie a while and not roup the gear at once. Could you see to that with the factor?”

I’m on M. D’Angelo’s side here, and I’ll add that the juxtaposition mentioned below was already done very well in Distant Voices, Still Lives:

Whatever Gibbons’ novel means to Davies — and it must mean a lot, as he reportedly spent many years struggling to get this film made — it doesn’t come across, except perhaps in the occasional juxtaposition of brutality and joyous group song. A few stray moments of piercing beauty toward the end (which also complicate what had previously seemed like the tediously downbeat trajectory of Chris’ marriage) can’t redeem the unrewarding slog that precedes them.

As far as beautifully shot but disappointing Davies films I watched this year go, I preferred The Deep Blue Sea, and as far as films I watched this month where soldiers get shot for cowardice in World War One, I’ll take Paths of Glory.

Always difficult to adapt poetry to the screen, so including words from the book as narration is nice. “So that was her marriage – not like waking from a dream, but like going into one. And she wasn’t sure, not for days, what things she had dreamt and what actually done.” Previously filmed as a 1971 miniseries, by the same director who shot Testament of Youth, which was also remade last year.

An unusual affair/despair story in that it felt less judgemental of the married woman than most of these. I suppose you could double-feature it with Carol, another beautifully-shot, woman-led affair/despair period drama made by a gay man.

Rachel Weisz is married to rich, older lawyer Simon Beale (of Orlando), is at the end of a formerly-passionate affair with Beale’s club buddy Loki, a hot young pilot who can’t handle settling down now that the action has ended. Rachel contemplates suicide by train and by gas, gets reluctant acceptance by her patient husband, doesn’t actually kill herself (though playwright Terence Rattigan based the story on his lover’s suicide).

Adam Cook:

Although Davies cleverly blends timelines and uses novel scene transitions the film is still, by and large, dogged by the static nature of its source material … The performances, particularly from a never better Rachel Weisz, are all magnificent. They manage to be both heightened and restrained, something only Davies manages to achieve in his work.

Shot by Florian Hoffmeister (Mortdecai, The Prisoner remake). The play has been filmed a few times before. A 1990’s version with Penelope Wilton, Colin Firth and Ian Holm sounds promising. Vivien Leigh starred in a 1950’s Anatole Litvak film. And a strange 1999 version has Samuel L. Jackson getting eaten by a shark.

I can’t remember if I finished watching this. I know I watched the first hour, but can’t be sure of anything after that. Or was it only an hour long? Anyway I know two things: one, that I was under the effects of dramamine at the time of the viewing, and two, that I found it disappointingly plain after the advance hype of Davies’ big festival comeback and the nostalgia poetry of his previous features.

I guess it wasn’t universally loved. The Telegraph: “Rarely have I had the misfortune to sit through such a relentlessly maudlin drool of clichés and sentiment. … As a poet of the proletarian past, Davies is no Bill Douglas or Dennis Potter. He has nothing of any profundity to say about time except that it passes.”

I’d like to watch more double-features by filmmakers with whom I’m not familiar… gives a better immediate sense of who they are than watching one movie, then a couple years later managing to catch another, and so on. I’ve already watched Terence Davies’s 2000 The House of Mirth but I completely don’t remember it. Must’ve been late at night on DVD or cable… the only evidence that I’ve seen it at all is my 8 rating on the IMDB, which I may have just clicked by accident one day while looking up Eleanor Bron movies. Anyway, since Of Time And The City isn’t out here, I grabbed his other two most acclaimed features Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992).

Both movies consist of beautifully shot sketches of memories. Distant Voices (the first half) was actually made as its own movie – about three siblings growing up under their father Pete Postlethwaite’s wrath. It was deemed too short to release, so the second part, Still Lives, was written and shot after – now father is dead from cancer and the kids are grown, moving out on their own and getting married. Episodes are shown in random-associative order, all superbly shot. Lots and lots of singing – movie is basically a musical… “takes a worried man to sing a worried song”… “in the bleak midwinter”… “there’s a man coming round taking names”… “when irish eyes are smiling”… tons more, all sung by the cast in bars, on the street or at home.

It was Pete Postlethwait’s breakout year – he was in two other reasonably big films. Davies in the DVD commentary: “It’s hard to believe that one man could’ve caused so much suffering and that all these years later I would make a film about it.”
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Mom, Tony, (dad), Eileen and Maisie
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Eileen (center) was in Aki Kaurismaki’s I Hired a Contract Killer. On left is a friend – loud, outspoken Mickey (good singer, too).
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Married life doesn’t always work out… old friend Jingles looks upset.
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Davies is annoyed that viewers thought the Christmas scenes gave sympathy to the father. He says his father deserves no sympathy. Seems from the commentary like everything actually happened in his life as we see it. Creative liberties are taken, of course… fewer siblings keeps things easier to follow, events and timelines are shuffled, but the movie is a mining of his real life. Reactions from family members to the film were mixed.
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Davies also has a wonderful voice on the commentary. I could listen to him all day. If he did EVERY dvd commentary, people might actually listen to the things. After watching the movie I assumed influence by Alain Resnais, but he says the structure is influenced mainly by T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
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Won a whole pile of awards, including at Cannes and Toronto, but lost the European Film Awards to Kieslowski and Wenders, oh well.
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The Long Day Closes is the same kind of thing, but in a shorter timespan and focusing on one kid (young Terence Davies, or “Bud”), his relationship with mother, home life, church and school. Still plenty of singing, though not as much as the other film, and now punctuated by audio clips from classic movies (the kid is happiest at the cinema). Subjective shots through his eyes, memory adding a dreamlike quality to certain scenes, rain and snow are so constant that sometimes they occur indoors.

Exquisite between-scene transitions… this is halfway through one of ’em.
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I’d say there’s less story here than in the other movie, more impressionistic. I don’t usually love nostalgic childhood reminiscence movies, but that’s because most aren’t as gorgeous as this one.

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By the time I got to the DVD commentary I’d already heard the one from DV,SL so I took it for granted that everything in Long Day Closes refers to a specific, sharply remembered incident in Davies’ real childhood. Liberties are taken, of course, like how the Christmas dinner table here seems to be out on the street.

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August 2012:
If there’s any film that should be watched on 35mm in theaters, it’s this one, and unbelievably, I got a chance. It was playing in Seattle, so Katy grudgingly agreed that we could go. Looked amazing. Nobody else in the theater but us. Katy mostly didn’t like it, dozed through the last 20 minutes, but responded to the audio clip from Tammy and the Bachelor.

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