Terence Davies is one of the most original and compelling of British filmmakers, but his work remains commercially marginalized, especially in the U.S., where his most personal films are not available on DVD. The arrival of his new film, The Deep Blue Sea, is cause for celebration, particularly for Angelenos who can see it as part of a series at the Aero that includes a new print of his 1992 masterpiece The Long Day Closes, screening Sunday with the filmmaker making a rare appearance.
Set in midcentury Liverpool, it dramatizes Davies' memories — both sober and romanticized — of his pre-adolescent life in the years following the death of his tyrannical father (who is a key character in 1983's Terence Davies Trilogy, screening Monday). With its baroque blend of working-class ritual, graceful camera movements and expressive movie sound clips and music, the film is one of the cinema's great memory fantasias.
Bud (Leigh McCormack) is the youngest child in a large Catholic family living in slum housing, a jungle of soot-black walls and rusted iron fencing. He transcends the gloom through his love affair with the movies (especially Ealing comedies and Hollywood musicals), and the time he spends with his mother and lively siblings. The quiet and sensitive Bud's erotic inklings suggest a latent homosexuality that further isolates him from his peers.
The film creates a powerful dynamic between postwar squalor and escapist artifice. Davies' Vermeer-like visual sensibility — light undulating through rain-drizzled windows or dancing over a stretch of carpet — emphasizes the beauty of the everyday. Family gatherings become tableaux vivant, iconic moments trapped in time. Slow dissolves merge scenes into cascades of association: a movie theater becomes a church, which becomes a classroom — the communities within each beautiful but frightening in their symmetry.
It's a heartbreaking vision of a world stripped by austerity measures and enlivened by tender moments of warmth.
THE BEAUTY OF THE LONG DAY: AN IN-PERSON TERENCE DAVIES TRIBUTE | March 11-12 | American Cinematheque at the Aero Theater | americancinemathequecalendar.com