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Terence Davies in America

Retrospectives and tributes have popped up across the country ahead of the US premiere of The Deep Blue Sea.
The DailyThe Long Day Closes

"With The Deep Blue Sea," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice, "the great British director Terence Davies returns to the postwar period — though in a sense, he has never left. Born in 1945, Davies's cinema is defined by a mixed pity and fondness for the world of yesterday, a past he seemingly finds impossible to put behind him or to do without. The era's hypocritical propriety and quivering repression has most frequently been held up for 'enlightened,' Pleasantville-style condescension, but Davies is a great historical filmmaker because he feels the period too intimately to mock its rituals and mores, knows that no progress occurs without loss."

A retrospective of Davies's work is running at New York's BAMcinématek through March 27, while Sing, Memory: The Postwar England of Terence Davies opens today at the Harvard Film Archive and runs through March 26. On March 28, The Long Day Closes (1992) opens for a week-long run at New York's Film Forum. When it played last weekend in Los Angeles, Doug Cummings wrote in the Weekly: "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."

"Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea has traditionally been a vehicle for an actress somewhat deep into middle age," writes Dan Callahan in the L. "Peggy Ashcroft had an enormous success with it on the London stage, and Margaret Sullavan broke hearts when she did it on Broadway…. As a text, it is a somewhat threadbare example of gay repression masquerading as suffering woman melodrama, and it would seem to be ideal material for Terence Davies, whose own dramatization of gay repression in his films has been close to Rattigan's but much bolder and more emotionally draining. Certainly he has improved on the stillborn 1955 film version with a sleepwalking Vivien Leigh, but this Davies movie often founders on the miscasting of the lead role with forceful Rachel Weisz, who at 40 looks at least ten years younger, and the limitations of the play itself."

The Deep Blue Sea

But for the New Yorker's Richard Brody, The Deep Blue Sea is "a major cinematic event." The film saw its New York premiere on Wednesday, "and Davies was there, hale and vigorous, charming and expansive, to introduce the movie with a few evocative anecdotes and pointed enthusiasms. Davies said that the producer Sean O'Connor suggested that he adapt one of Terence Rattigan's plays. The two that Davies didn't want to take on were The Browning Version and Separate Tables, because of his affection for the classic movie versions. He chose The Deep Blue Sea because, he said, 'I know what that's about,' and he credited Alan Brodie, of the Terence Rattigan Trust, for advising him to 'be radical.'"

Earlier in the week, Davies was in Chicago, where The Deep Blue Sea "was shown in a packed advance screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of its annual European Union Film Festival," notes the Tribune's Michael Phillips. "In an interview prior to his question-and-answer session with the audience, and in the Q&A itself, Davies's personal list of ravishments included composer Samuel Barber's violin concerto, prominently featured in The Deep Blue Sea; the prose of Edith Wharton ('Ravishing English!') in what he considers her finest novel, The House of Mirth, filmed by Davies in 2000; and the lobby of the Palmer House Hilton hotel. 'It's like a cross between a cathedral and a railway station,' he said, puckishly." Conversation turned to the "so-called 'women's pictures' of the 1950s, particularly those by the cinematically ravishing Douglas Sirk, such as All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession. 'I grew up on them,' he told me. Movies were everything. 'When my father died — and thank God, he was a complete bastard — my sister took me to the cinema. I was 7. My very first film — Singin' in the Rain. My God, what an introduction!'"

Earlier: Graham Fuller's interview with Davies in the current issue of Film Comment, roundups on The Deep Blue Sea from Toronto and the UK release and a new roundup from Alt Screen. And Davies is finally seeing financing come together for new projects. "Briefing" readers may recall that he's got two adaptations in the works: Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song and Richard McCann's Mother of Sorrows.

Update, 3/19: Bill Weber for Slant: "After Of Time and the City, a personal documentary steeped in anger and sorrow over the decline of his native Liverpool (those infernal, noisy Beatles!), Davies might be expected to immerse the drama in a reconstitutive haze of period detail and pop songs, but those elements coexist with the drab interiors and perilous future oppressing Rattigan's heroine Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), whose curtain-raising suicide attempt becomes Davies's initial gambit in rescuing The Deep Blue Sea from captivity in its era."

Updates, 3/23: At the House Next Door, Aaron Cutler considers "how love plays out in Davies's world, where the people are rarely regarding each other directly. A typical Davies shot depicting a character's longing, whether it's a boy watching his mother or something more nakedly sexual, shows a person alone, with eyes wide and mouth slightly open, seen from the waist up and standing out in front of a flat, still background; the person they're looking at, seen in the next shot, is never matching their gaze, with their eyes somewhere away or off. When the couple is seen together, the acting changes as their bodies do. Just as one member of the couple emotes a desire that the other greets with either gentle, pitying kindness or with a blank expression, the torsos and faces themselves rarely seem to line up exactly, encountering each other at odd, subtly off angles. Even when people are together, their need for companionship goes unfulfilled."

J Hoberman at Artinfo on The Deep Blue Sea: "When it comes to Rattigan's dialogue, less is definitely more. Although somewhat trimmed, the big dramatic scenes between Hester and her husband and her lover remain cringe-worthy. Still, Davies's artistry never flags. The sound design, heavy on Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, is impeccable; the lighting is exquisite; the compositions noteworthy. If the melodrama verges on the ridiculous, Weisz, who is seldom off screen, does not. Davies is an appreciative director of actresses. Hester's fragility and isolation are the most powerful aspects of the movie, as is her character's struggle with authority. Her father was a vicar; her husband is a titled magistrate. She feels too deeply and has difficulty connecting. Those familiar with Davies's earlier evocations of post-World War II British life (Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes) will know everything they need to about his protagonist's psychology watching her failure to fully participate in spontaneous pub sing-alongs of sentimental pop songs. Reverie is Davies's essential mode and The Deep Blue Sea oscillates between the rhapsodic and the maudlin — it isn't entirely successful but it's never less than engrossing."

More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Bilge Ebiri (Vulture), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Michael Nordine (Hammer to Nail), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Vadim Rizov (GreenCine Daily), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 4/5), AO Scott (New York Times), Scott Tobias (AV Club, A), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10).

As for the latest round of interviews with Davies, to Michael Guillén's here in the Notebook, let's add Thomas Dodson's for the Playlist, Brandon Harris's for Filmmaker and, posted above, Damon Smith's for Reverse Shot.

Another one: Davies and Weisz are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 3/24: "A nation must have its culture heroes, and current wisdom among Anglo-American movie critics and programmers has advanced Terence Davies to the position of Britain's greatest living filmmaker," writes J Hoberman for the New York Review of Books. "But there are, of course, several other possible contenders for British cine-laureate. These include Ken Loach, the politically-minded director who unexpectedly won the 2006 Palm d'Or at Cannes for his Irish troubles film The Wind That Shakes the Barley; Peter Greenaway, who made several startlingly original early features (The Draughtsman's Contract and Drowning By Numbers) but has since devolved into a purveyor of post-cinematic claptrap; and Stephen Frears, the prolific workhorse whose movies have racked up a number of Oscar nominations (The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen). Only one, however, is at all credible: Mike Leigh. Davies and Leigh, who are near contemporaries, have definite points of contact…. Their working methods however could hardly be more different." A compare-and-contrast follows, and then: "Leigh is arguably Britain's greatest director, but for pure film making, Davies is in another class. The Deep Blue Sea could truly have been a magnificent silent movie. It's not Britishness that makes Davies a major film artist, it's his adoration of the medium."

Time's Richard Corliss on The Deep Blue Sea: "Davies has been here before. His handsome, thoughtful version of the Edith Wharton novel The House of Mirth (2000) cast Gillian Anderson as a Manhattan vixen, reduced to poverty by an upper class that is tired of her coquetry and unaware of her special heroism in refusing to destroy a rival. Davies characters try to run away from their first home, outlive a first impression, yet the past is a country with no exit visa. In his 1995 film of John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible, the central character says, 'If you were different from anybody else in town, you had to get out.' In one sense, Davies escaped his youth; in another, he keeps returning."

Update, 3/26: "Following Distant Voices, Still Lives as Davies's exploration of his childhood in 1950s working-class Liverpool, The Long Day Closes is both less dark and more radical than its predecessor," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "While physical and emotional pain bled out of that 1988 autobiographical portrait as if from an open wound, here the chief feeling infusing the events surrounding the filmmaker's 11-year-old surrogate, Bud (Leigh McCormack), is one of exaltation. Instead of the continuous threat of frustrated male violence represented by the abusive father in the earlier film, there's the tender, feminine cocoon personified by the boy's beatified mother (Marjorie Yates) and a slew of affectionate brothers and sisters. Despite the warm communal setting, however, Bud is essentially a solitary figure, a shy, grave child who, like the filmmaker, experiences the first stirrings of homosexual desire along with the weight of Catholic guilt…. It's this loneliness that's key to the film's radical, almost non-narrative style."

Updates, 4/8: "Davies's films, in their own way, are indicative of the social fissures of our moment," writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. "How is it that he can be an aesthetic maverick who so clearly longs for a return to the older, lost values of pre-1960s Britain, of his wartime and postwar childhood? Who is this gay man who, to judge from his films alone, seems to pine for a cultural moment that, as dominant historical narratives would have it at least, is among the previous century's most conformist and repressive? Davies's cinema reflects both a desire for a social and cultural wholeness that is at least partly imaginary, and an overwhelming sense of isolation and agony, the palpability of being an outsider to that larger world (The Long Day Closes, 1992), or being its small, powerless victim (Distant Voices, Still Lives, 1988)."

The Chicago Reader's Ben Sachs: "Among the many reasons to see Terence Davies's The Deep Blue Sea (the subject of this week's long review by JR Jones) is that it marks the first feature in which Davies confronts sexual desire directly. The subject runs through all of the great director's work, though Davies tends to sublimate it into his depictions of moviegoing, family ties, or social convention — and then there's the high sensuality of his directorial style, which makes a case for cinema being more pleasurable than sex."

More on The Deep Blue Sea: Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago, 4/5) and Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 3/4). Keith Uhlich gives a full 5 stars to The Long Day Closes in Time Out New York. More interviews with Davies: AA Dowd (Time Out Chicago) and Johnny Huston (Fandor).

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