Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Neon Bible

(Terrence Davies, UK, 1995)

Streamed via Amazon Instant Video, and the quality was abominable: Lo-res and chopped on either side of the frame.  Still, Davies' images astound.  He works very much at his own tempo, and the film sometimes gets tripped up, but when he's in the groove, it's a masterpiece of poetic cinema.  Painterly, yesofcourse.  The film abounds with perfectly apposite frames for the world he depicts: a hothouse of desire and yearning under the sway of repressive, dogmatic powers.  Davies channels the American South beautifully, hauntingly, proving himself an apt student of Williams, O'Neill, Faulkner, O'Connor, and (of course) Toole: a place of overabundant fertility, almost seethingly erotic, strange, gloriously weird, but which, perhaps by virtue of these same qualities, attracts such vicious hatred and fear that it seems always to be under the shadow of tragedy. 

We see this in his portraits and still-lives.  But there are no truly static scenes; everything in the film seems to breathe, rising and falling almost imperceptibly, as we're borne back into the past through a string of vignettes.  There is plenty of camera movement, too; the frame moves up, down, over, sideways - never ostentatiously - to depict not just physical but emotional movement, and movement through time.  It's a montage of his own, abounding with possibilities.  And all the while there is sound - crickets at night, the creaking a screen door, branches tapping at the window in a storm, and music, music, music.  Davies works in the dream-mode most prominently; he has mastered his own cinema as a vehicle of memory, dream, and interior experience, both musical and literary, both historical and intimate.  Despite the occasionally clashing notes (certain performances don't fit into his staging, which requires a kind of theatrical brilliance and stillness that is exceedingly difficult to capture on film, and the final, desultory burst of violence) it is a film, and a style, to be reckoned with and rejoiced for.  

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