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Closely Watched Films: Terence Davies

February 20, 2008 - February 27, 2008

The Long Day Closes, February 22

Terence Davies’s films are memory machines. They stir up the past like so many gleaming traces, gaining resonance through rich and telling association. Best known for his masterwork Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), Davies grew up amidst the working class of Liverpool, and this informs much of his veiled autobiography. An urban setting of scarce opportunity and, at its center, a stern and brutish father make for stories in which emotional endurance is a form of quiet heroism. His superbly measured compositions—on display also in the award-winning Trilogy (1984), The Neon Bible (1995), and The House of Mirth (2000)—always find beauty amidst the emotional debris. Davies gleans surprising joy from the privations of the working class, in the shared distractions and communal sorrows. Music also plays a particularly poignant part—popular songs punctuate the films, blending buoyant voices with period sentiments. Finally, there are the fictive Davieses, realized in the Trilogy and The Long Day Closes (1992) as adolescents growing up gay in mid-century Liverpool. In the ache of their otherness, these boys are known to us through their disaffection with Catholic repression and the hostility of their bullying peers. Their homosexuality is a coloration in the director’s backwards gaze, not an overt cry, but a whisper, bringing subtle complexity to his much-pondered past.

Winner of the Critics’ Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Terence Davies will be PFA’s guest for the series Closely Watched Films, in which notable film artists delve deeply into one of their most masterful movies. The series is based on Roger Ebert’s model, what he calls a “shot-by-shot workshop.” The analysis unfolds with the director sharing personal insights and anecdotes while fielding the copious questions of the gathered viewers, leading to what some have dubbed “democracy in the dark.” In Davies’s case, we’ll begin with a screening of Distant Voices, Still Lives, then return for an hours-long examination of this savory film. Join us as well for the retrospective of memory-drenched films that surrounds it.

Steve Seid
Video Curator

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
7:30 p.m. The Terence Davies Trilogy
Terence Davies in Person. Introduced by David Thomson. Three short films entwine into a devastating portrayal of the impact of religion, family, and sexual torment on the life of a man much like Davies himself. “Lacerating but ecstatic in tone.”—David Thomson

Thursday, February 21, 2008
7:30 p.m. Distant Voices, Still Lives
Terence Davies in Person. Davies mines family memories, both painful and bittersweet, for an elliptical, luminous, and moving portrait of a working-class life in mid-century Liverpool. “Terence Davies’s mesmerizing memory film becomes its own kind of poetry: taut, referential, inward, brilliant.”—L.A. Times

Friday, February 22, 2008
7:00 p.m. The Long Day Closes
Terence Davies in Person. Depicting a cinephilic childhood in 1950s England, Davies paints a world of music, shadows, and light. “A marriage of individual and collective memory consecrated by the movies.”—Village Voice

Friday, February 22, 2008
9:05 p.m. The Neon Bible
Terence Davies in Person. John Kennedy Toole’s novel, set in a small Southern town, is transformed through Davies’s sensibility into “a cinema of raw feelings and incandescent moments.”—Chicago Reader. With Gena Rowlands.

Saturday, February 23, 2008
2:30 p.m. Distant Voices, Still Lives: Shot-by-Shot
Discussion with Terence Davies. Davies leads us through his film in what promises to be a transfixing trip down memory lane.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008
7:30 p.m. The House of Mirth
Gillian Anderson plays a woman destroyed by social expectations in Davies’s powerful adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel. “Davies’s sense of the material is closer to a Mizoguchi geisha drama than Masterpiece Theatre.”—Village Voice

Closely Watched Films is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Presented with outreach support from Frameline.