Archive for May, 2008

Songs for my mother

For Mother’s Day, a new banner with a frame from my favorite film, The Long Day Closes.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with my mom, but I can’t think of movies about mothers without linking mine with this film.  Directed by the British film-maker Terence Davies in 1992, The Long Day Closes is ‘about’ Bud, a young boy and his family in 1950’s England.  But the film really has no traditional plot, taking instead the form of loosely structured vignettes that wander through four primary childhood spaces: home, school, church, and the cinema. Sometimes, one scene dissolves right into the next.  At other times, walls literally slide away like theater curtains, exposing a family dinner tableau.  So the film is about childhood, yes, but also about memory of childhood, and the triggers for certain episodes the mind chooses to retain.  For Davies, the triggers are movies and music, and often music from movies.  One critic called the film a “Proustian musical” arguing that Davies uses music and film to call up memories in the same way that Proust uses madeleine cookies and tea.

The movie’s opening credits are accompanied by a static shot of a bouquet of roses and a Boccherini waltz. At the end of those credits, we hear other sounds of the beginning of a movie (the fanfare of the 20th-Century Fox logo), then snippets of dialogue about the beginning of a film.  Through all of this, we see the dilapidated ruins of row-houses, then the worn, exposed interior of one particular house.  Then, as we transition from the ruins of the present day (meaning adulthood, maturity, skepticism, loss of innocence) to the glories of the childhood past, the rain-damaged staircase of the house is restored to its bright, warm, comfortable state, and we see Bud as a boy (ourselves as our childhood selves), sitting halfway up the stairs.  And we do all that to the strains of Nat King Cole’s “Stardust”, and that is when I always start to cry.  There’s something about Nat King Cole’s voice that takes me to my mother.  And “Stardust”, with its lines about “the music of the years gone by” and “a song that will not die”, takes the boy in The Long Day Closes to his own mother.

In two of the first scenes of the movie, Bud’s mother sings.  At first, she sings to herself (“If you were the only girl in the world . . .”) as she washes the dishes.  She probably knows that someone can hear her, but that’s not the point of her singing.  She sings because she has songs in her head.  She seems happy, but there’s a hint of melancholy in her voice.  And once she finishes, she gives Bud permission (and some money) to go to the matinee.  In a later scene, as Bud and his brothers and sisters come home from the fair, we hear a man sing “She Moved Through the Fair”.  Slowly, Bud’s mother’s voice joins the man, then he fades out until we hear just her.  She’s now holding Bud as she sings, and her voice seems to show even more wear, even more bittersweet experience.  Then her eyes well up with tears as she tells Bud that her father used to sing the song to her.  One song connects us from one scene to the next, from a mother to her son, back to her own father.  

Bud is probably about ten years old, and the movie takes place in 1956 – pretty much my mom’s age, which explains why so much of the soundtrack seems tailor-made for her: besides Nat King Cole, we hear Doris Day with “At Sundown”, the Carousel Waltz from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Debbie Reynolds with “Tammy”, and several folk songs, usually sung unaccompanied.

Sadly, the movie isn’t available on DVD, and there is no soundtrack CD.  (I bought a VHS copy ten years ago or so.)  So here, thanks to YouTube, a patchwork soundtrack to my favorite movie, for my mother.  Thanks, Mom, for giving me the gift of sweet memories, hummed melodies, and so many matinees.




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