Sing a Song of Sixpence That Goes...
 photo moon shaped pool_zpshwprg1ug.jpg

I like A Moon Shaped Pool more than I've liked a Radiohead record since Amnesiac, or maybe Kid A. As was the case with that turn-of-the-millennium pair, the new album works really well on multiple levels of listening: it justifies and rewards close attention (which the last two didn't--there was no "there" there, to borrow a line from the band), but it's also great, melodic sonic wallpaper if that's what you want it to do (unlike the more stubbornly intrusive Hail to the Thief, which seemed to signal something or other of some import in 2003 but hasn't held up particularly well 13 years on). At present A Moon Shaped Pool is serving splendidly as background music while I grade some four dozen final exams--but it keeps reminding me, politely yet insistently, to give it my full attention again when I can spare the time. Will do.


Songs of Innocence and Experience  photo sunset song image_zpsqlmwxefk.jpg

As busy as I am these days I just couldn't resist getting out to the Museum of the Moving Image's Terence Davies retrospective. When I noticed that Davies himself (one of my favorite filmmakers) would be in town and appearing for Q&As at some screenings, it became an absolute must-attend. In person, Davies was as eloquent and thoughtful as any longtime fan could hope. But he was funnier than I expected, gushing effusively about his love of the Hollywood musical and American songbook, emphatically asserting that no actor (regardless of their fame) deserves to be paid inordinate sums of money, and musing that he is so close with his therapist that even he now hates Davies' long-deceased, abusive father. And while Davies said that he has been celibate since 1980, he coyly described The Long Day Closes's striking image of Christ on the cross as a "very sexy" scene.

That film (one of two screenings that I attended, along with the local premiere of Davies' latest, Sunset Song) looked and sounded incredible in the museum's handsome theatre. It'd been years since I'd seen it, and watching it again I was struck by how well it would play alongside great recent coming-of-age films like Boyhood, Girlhood, and Blue is the Warmest Color. Hearing Davies speak about this deeply personal work -- capturing, despite the film's melancholic notes, the happiest period of his youth, between the death of his father and his entry into secondary school, and, crucially, the period when his long romance with "the pictures" took root -- only contributed to my admiration of it.

Nevertheless, the masterful, extraordinarily beautiful Sunset Song (also a coming-of-age story) confirmed conclusively that I prefer Davies' later adaptations to his earlier, autobiographical films, a preference that probably puts me in a small minority among Davies devotees. As in The House of Mirth (still Davies' best in my view, though a second or third viewing of Sunset Song could well change that), the rhythm and pacing of his adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's revered Scottish novel are so perfectly calibrated. The result is completely cinematic, with its eye-popping exteriors shot in 65mm and its digitally-shot interior scenes no less gorgeous, while also capturing the distinctively immersive quality of reading, and living with, a great novel. It is Davies' uncommon skill as a narrative storyteller that isn't really present in his looser, dreamier early work, but is showcased to expert effect in his later films, not least the utterly engrossing Sunset Song. While this shift would typically be ascribed to "maturation," it is more likely connected to Davies' twice-repeated conviction that "content dictates form, every time."

Another key aspect that characterizes Davies' later, non-autobiographical films is the stunning performances of their lead actresses, from Gena Rowlands to Gillian Anderson to Rachel Weisz (and I expect great things from Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson in Davies' forthcoming A Quiet Passion!). Agyness Deyn, though less famous (for now) than the others aforementioned, is certainly no less remarkable; her performance here is as powerful and nuanced as any on film in recent memory. Deyn, who was also present at last night's screening (wearing a baggy grey hoodie that contrasted sharply with the film's rustic WWI-era costumes), displayed real, palpable affection for her director. Davies', and DP Michael McDonough's, affection for her is expressed in every exquisite frame of Sunset Song. Before the screening started, Davies asked of the audience, "Watch it with your hearts, we made it with ours." So I did, and it made for a moviegoing experience I won't soon forget.