BFI Classics: Distant Voices

Author: Paul Farley

Terence Davies could very well be the greatest unknown of British cinema having directed some of the most beautiful films of the last 20 years yet nobody knows who he is. Thanks to Paul Farley we get this delightful BFI book on Davies early masterpiece Distant Voices, Still Lives.

Davies is a native of a working class Liverpool family and fell in love with the cinema from a very early age. This would later be captured in his spectacular film The Long Day Closes another autobiographical fantasy this time surrounding a young boy in love with the cinema. Having then gained a small measure of fame with films such as The Neon Bible and House of Mirth, Davies has only made one film in ten years.

The book itself is undoubtedly a labor of love for Farley and also includes a sizeable involvement of Davies himself. As Farley details the themes of the film from the use of photography to music there are prolonged quotes from Davies himself showing a very close relationship between the two.

Unlike many others of the classic books Farley has decided against a details linear breakdown of the film detailing certain parts. The author breaks the film down into different themes that he believes marks the work and passions of Davies himself. Chapters are entitled House, Family, Poetry and Music as they concentrate on those individual themes with the film itself.

The book will leave you in no doubt that Davies is a visual poet who having never yearned for fame is also unlikely to find it anytime soon. His films are all deeply considered personal pieces that resemble classic paintings with actual movement. Farley also pours over Davies’ love of music and how he utilizes it within his films. The characters like those you may see in a Dennis Potter penned drama can break into impromptu song any given moment. Davies love of the classic American musical is well documented and Farley returns to this love in the book. In the book Davies’ talks lovingly about Gene Kelly’s hands in An American in Paris and his belief that Singin’ in the Rain is simply the greatest film of all time.

Having been a great fan of Terence Davies since first seeing the astounding Neon Bible I had purposely tracked down all his films to watch. The book is undoubtedly more valuable if you are already an admirer of Davies’ but thanks to Farley’s tender writing style and sheer love of his subject you could see anyone warming to this. The film does undoubtedly focus of the study of film more than trivia but in a far more philosophical sense.

Great film writing should always come alive due to a shared passion between the reader and the author himself. Farley clearly adores the universe of Terence Davies and I’m in total agreement with him that Davies’ is a true genius who has sadly been ignored by the masses. His narrative comes exclusively from within as he recounts his life through the influence of his family and the classic American films he grew up loving. Personally I found this book a real page turner as it truly gets what the work of Davies’ is all about.

Aled Jones

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