The Long Day Closes and Terence Davies with The Badlands Collective

What films do, they capture the fleeting moment. That’s why it’s so fabulous.

(Terence Davies, 10/09/2014)

The Badlands Collective are a small group of cinephiles on a mission to host screenings of great films in the UK, and always from high quality 35mm prints.

Their first screening was a tribute to the late, great Harris Savides and featured a double bill of The Game and Birth as well as a Q&A with Birth‘s director Jonathan Glazer. This week they were back at the ICA in London for a presentation of Terence Davies‘ sublime The Long Day Closes, of which they had managed to find an excellent 35mm print.

The Long Day Closes feels like a perfect choice from The Badlands Collective, a group who worship at the alter of cinema. Davies has always been obsessed with the way in which cinematic images and sounds coalesce and collide, and in one particularly beautifully constructed sequence in The Long Day Closes, he even makes the comparison between church and cinema himself with a slow transition between the two.

While Davies walked away from the church in his early twenties, it seems that cinema has remained a constant in his life, and its emotionally transformative qualities are writ large across The Long Day Closes.

The film’s central character, Bud (Leigh McCormack), is based in part on Davies’ personal experiences of childhood. Davies began the post-film Q&A by discussing the difficulties in working with child actors.

I just remember how difficult it was directing a child. They are very difficult, because you can’t say to them, ‘this is the psychological reason’…. They just have to be. He was very unresponsive in that respect and I got very, very worried about that because you can’t shout at a child. I wouldn’t shout at an adult. I couldn’t possibly shout at a child. I had to kind of cajole the performance out of him. I did find it a terrible strain. I didn’t want him to be upset.

Davies’ films do feature a great deal of autobiographical content – in particular Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes – and he was incredibly candid in the Q&A about the highs and lows he experienced growing up.

I was absolutely obsessed with it [cinema]. My sister, after my father – who was extremely violent – died, took me to see Singin’ in the Rain when I was seven. I mean, what an introduction. So I went all the time. I couldn’t stop going. And I could remember whole stretches of dialogue and, as I said before, music. Especially music. When music comes in over something. The opening of Psycho. the opening of Big Country. It’s just thrilling beyond belief. I literally, really believed that everything I saw was true. I watched rubbish. I loved going to the movies.

My father was a psychotic and the things that I put in Distant Voices, Still Lives were nothing like what happened. On one occasion he wanted to chop my mother’s head off in front of me. When you’re six, that’s kind of traumatic. But once he died, from seven to eleven I was still in primary school and that was paradise. I was sick with happiness. I never thought it would end. And then I had to go to secondary school, which was a boy’s school. And I was beaten up every day for five years. That destroyed any kind of self worth. That’s the one thing I can’t forgive, because I was baited and detested simply because I was different.

And I didn’t know I was different. I thought I was like everyone else, but apparently I’d lost my accent when I was very young. I’ve got a very imitative ear and I sounded like the queen mother after she died. So no wonder they beat me up all the time.

…Then I left school at fifteen and in those days being gay was a criminal offence and so I felt like a criminal…. People said ‘queer’ in those days and it was said with so much venom and animosity. And you were a criminal by implication. That was awful. My little four years of paradise ended [clicks fingers] like that. Never to be retrieved…. It was utter, utter misery. I prayed until my knees bled, no sucker came. And I thought great, that’s a really fabulous way to live and when I was twenty-two I thought that’s it, I don’t believe it anymore. And I walked out of mass…

Terence Davies’ next film will be Sunset Song, a long gestating project that sees him adapting Lewis Grassic Gibbon‘s novel of the same name, previously adapted for television by the BBC.

I’ve wanted to do Sunset Song for fifteen years. Couldn’t get any kind of interest at all. Couldn’t. And I saw it on the BBC on Sunday in 1971 and I waited for every Sunday. I just couldn’t wait for the next episode and I read the book – which is actually quite hard to read – and I wanted to do it. No-one was interested. literally no-one.

Finally we got money and then you get fifteen pages from BBC Scotland saying Peter Mullan isn’t Scottish enough. I mean it beggars belief. That’s the kind of thing that’s tiresome. There’s always someone who says, ‘if only we’d done this, this and this it would be a really good film’. And you think, ‘just breathe into this plastic bag, you’ll feel nothing’.

Agyness Deyn, who is playing the main part, she’s a real talent. We got the voice coach, who came from Aberdeenshire – where the novel is set. She’s terrific. Eleven pages from BBC Scotland saying she’s not Scottish enough. And you you just think ‘Christ, he we go again.’

Sunset Song was shot on 65mmm and Davies intends for it to also be projected on 70mm when it is finally released.

70mm is fabulous. It’s the same ratio as Lawrence of Arabia and Ryan’s Daughter. It looks sensational.

Terence Davies’s film are so fundamentally wrapped up in the deep power of memories, their subjective nature, their often bittersweet tone and the way in which they deeply affect our lives. He spoke at length about the significance of memories to his films and in particular the way in which they are often defined by intense moments in one’s lives.

When I thought about my childhood I remembered these intense moments. Nothing before, nothing after, just the intensity of the moment. After my father died my family began to talk about it all the time. So, in a way their memories became mine. But all they remembered was the intensity of the moment. I didn’t realise that as a child but that’s what we remember…. Like dropping a stone in a pool, the ripples are all part of that singular memory. It’s not linear, it’s cyclical. I just saw it like that. I think it must have been helped by the fact that I went to the movies all the time. I saw everything. And you don’t realise you’re absorbing something. It’s like absorbing a language, you don’t understand that you’re doing it.

…You remember the intensity of the moment, not what went before and not what came after. And that’s why memory is so powerful, it’s not linear. It’s the intensity of the moment that then passes. And that’s also part of its sadness. As you experience the moment, it goes. As you experience the moment, it’s gone. That is heartbreaking. I find that particularly heartbreaking.

I haven’t seen The Long Day Closes since it was finished. When I think about it now I can run through my head and think, does it matter? Does it matter? And as Chekov says, ‘No, it doesn’t. Nothing matters.’ That’s hard.

I can assure you it actually does matter Mr. Davies. It really does.

Thanks to The Badlands Collective for hosting the screening and Q&A. You can follow them on Twitter and on Facebook to stay abreast of their upcoming events.