“Strange that the mind will forget so much of what only this moment is passed, and yet hold clear and bright the memory of what happened years ago, of men and women long since dead…Can I believe my friends all gone when their voices are still a glory in my ears? No. And I will stand to say no again, for they remain a living truth within my mind.”
—Huw Morgan, How Green Was My Valley
Memory is a singular fascination for Terence Davies. His films are structured not around a traditional narrative, but the seemingly inane trivialities that stick out in a person’s recollection of their lives. They are punctuated not by rousing speeches or any obvious character development, but by things like a lesson on different kinds of erosion, an uneasy moment of sexual guilt in church and a quote from a film.
Perhaps the most powerful instance of this occurs towards the end of The Long Day Closes, when after being left behind while his brothers and sisters go out for the day, Bud (Leigh McCormack) begins to swing on a railing as Tammy by Debbie Reynolds plays. From an overhead shot, the camera tracks left, cross fading into a cinema, tracking the light from the film projector before cross fading again into a Catholic mass, a classroom and finally back to the street where Bud is still swinging.
The overhead angle acts as a perspective that comes with a passage of time as an adult Davies looking back on his childhood through the scope of Bud. Each segue draws a parallel between the connecting segments: from cinema to church, alluding to the notion of cinema as religion, and from church to school, equating the priest’s sermon to the lesson given by the teacher.
School, church and cinema: the three boundaries of Davies’ childhood life (emphasised by the fact that Bud cannot go where his grown-up siblings can). The camera gives equal importance to all three of these vignettes through a constant motion. As noted by Wendy Everett in her book on Davies: “inner and outer spaces blend, barriers and differences dissolve, and the apparently discrete times and places of childhood form a single movement”1. The manner through which moments and places are remembered is often as one continuous stream of conscience.
Cinema is omnipresent throughout the sequence. Earlier in the film, when asked where her son is, his mother comments: “The pictures, where else?” It serves as both foundation and exemplification. Within the sequence, the audience are first introduced to it through the musical cue. Tammy, from Tammy and the Bachelor, is in itself a totally overblown musical number, yet through Davies’ lens, it acts as a perfect illustration of the intense nostalgia that the director feels looking back on his life (and indeed it is likely that this is one of the many anthems of his childhood).
Davies contextualises and rationalises his life through the cinema that he watches. He describes the church and school with quotes from Kind Hearts and Coronets (“And in the pulpit, talking interminable nonsense, the Reverend Lord Henry D’Ascoyne…”) and Terry Thomas (“You’re a shower! An absolute shower! There’s no other word for it!”). It is a source of persistent happiness (throughout the film Bud’s character is at its strongest when he is watching a film), and he is able to use it as a shield against the parts of his life that he finds difficult (those being the church, where his latent homosexuality conflicts with the stringent rules of Catholicism, and at school where he is bullied by domineering teachers and students alike).