Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Introduction to SUNSET SONG and Terence Davies

Terence Davies is one of those masters of cinema who is still struggling to find the audience he deserves. Even such a beautiful literary adaptation like SUNSET SONG (2015) did not make it to cinemas or even blu ray around here (Switzerland, Germany...).

However, it is available with English (for those who are put off by the Scottish accents) or French subtitles. Since SUNSET SONG is relatively conventional compared to Davies's autobiographical masterpieces DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (1988) and THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992), this more easily accessible narrative serves as an ideal introduction to the cinematic universe of a highly idiosyncratic film maker every cinephile has to know.
This video essay was originally made for where you can find a version with German voice over narration.

An Introduction to Terence Davies's SUNSET SONG from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.

Note: Last year, for the first time (ever?) Terence Davies was able to release two feature films within two consecutive years which means that A QUIET PASSION (2016), his highly acclaimed portrait of poet Emily Dickinson is already available in some territories. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances described above, I have not seen it yet.

Planimetric Shots
If you have ever seen a Terence Davies film you might probably remember his "planimetric" compositions (which is a term that David Bordwell had originally borrowed from Heinrich Wölfflin), i.e. the more or less flat staging of characters in parallel layers with the camera often perpendicular to the back wall of a room. Although this type of shot has become much more common in mainstream movies and especially period pieces, most people associate it with Wes Anderson who has been excessively using it ever since THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001).

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson, 2001)

You couldn't mistake Davies's compositions for Anderon's, however. While Anderson's candy color fantasies often look as if they were freshly painted or arranged by a doll house manufacturer, Davies's rooms and costumes are carefully selected to look lived-in and well-worn.

Green Scottish Life
Although he seems to prefer washed out colors (not the digitally desaturated DC kind, of course) in SUNSET SONG his director of photography Michael McDonough captured with his 65mm (exteriors) and large format digital (interiors) cameras a wide range of subtle shades of green...

...that in the second half are often balanced with red garments:

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