F L I C K E R S
July 2, 1993
The Long Day Closes
Written and directed by Terence Davis
In Terence Davies’ new movie, The Long Day Closes, a boy living in 1950s Liverpool sits in his house while lights from passing cars flicker through the window behind him. In the next scene, the boy is seated in the balcony of his local movie theatre as the projector’s beam bathes him in a glow similar to that he has just left in his own living room window. At home, the boy sits on the stairs and watches for several screen minutes as the afternoon sun seems to alter the pattern on a throw rug. Later, the boy stands in a doorway and watches as his mother sings alone in the dark. Life is rich for the boy; every moment a potential memory. A director in the making, the boy feels a deep bond with movies, the attendance of which is a special occasion. There in the balcony, beneath the flickering beam of light, his way of seeing is authenticated. Movies grant him the freedom to stare at the light on the living room rug.
The Long Day Closes is only 82 minutes long but people are walking out of it anyway. I find this disturbing but I know that I too am a much less patient and more fidgety moviegoer than I was as a child, when I only had eyes for the screen. Watching the boy in this movie, so rapt, so still, up there in his balcony, I realized that he could instantly enter the state of complete immersion I so long to reach as an adult moviegoer. The boy may recognize the artistic difference between Tammy and the Bachelor and The Magnificent Ambersons but he doesn’t view one less avidly than the other. If he could see the long pan we see in The Long Day Closes, which glides above a movie audience and then melds into another pan above worshipers in a church, he would not pause to question the intellectual relevance of the filmmaker making a connection between cinema and religion. Instead, with the pure emotional response of a young moviegoer, he would simply purr with pleasure at the beauty of the shot — the rightness of it — and sink even deeper into his seat.
When I was the age of the boy in The Long Day Closes, my summer afternoon games of softball in the cul-de-sac were often interrupted by sudden, violent thunderstorms. When these storms would come up, I would run into my house and change out of my damp clothes and meet my mother at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor of our split level house. My mother has a deathly fear of lightning, and short of hiding in the closet, the stairway, protected by the inner walls of the house, was the best she could do to escape the flashes. Lightning made my mother jump in her skin. We would sit on the stairs, my mother and me, in near darkness. The only light beyond the occasional flashes of light through the living room window came from the weak glow of the kitchen’s stove light spilling into the foyer below us. Invariably, I would have changed into my pajamas and slippers and would sit on the stair at my mother’s feet and in between flashes of light and sips from the iced tea glass she held in the palm of her hand — a folded square napkin wrapped around its base — my mother would tell me stories of her life. About how she met my father and married young and had too many babies too soon and tried to hold, often in vain, onto her self, as her life sped on faster than she could catch up to. Lightning made my mother jump but it also made a space for her to pause and breathe and catch up to herself, just a bit. I was only a boy and although I don’t remember all the stories she told me, I do remember, to borrow a line from John Updike, the way “Lightning kept taking her photograph.”
Sitting in a screening of The Long Day Closes, watching the boy observe his mother and the way light moved through their lives, I thought of my mother and went home and called her and had the most marvelous conversation about lightning and about memory. All of which is a heavy burden to place on one movie and on you, its potential audience. You may well go to The Long Day Closes and grow restless and fidgety and that would be okay by me. A few days ago, I walked out of an undoubtedly great European film because I wasn’t able to meet it halfway. I just couldn’t sit there. I forgave myself. They’re only movies, after all, and we get something or we don’t and we go home and we feed the cat. Meaning can come at a red light. Such is the beauty and terror of living.
Go. See. Who knows?
Special thanks to Matthew, whose generous spirit inspired me to go dig this one up.