Published on May 30th, 2017 | by Padraic Coffey0
My Favourite Things – Michael Doherty
Michael Doherty is the film critic for the RTÉ Guide.
The Long Day Closes (1992, Terence Davies)
Like most film writers, I find it almost impossible to choose one favourite film. It’s one of those questions you agonise over, because the answer changes over the years depending on the mood you’re in and depending on what you’ve seen. Movies change and cinema-going habits change, but there have always been two or three constants on my own list of favourites.
These are Yausijrō Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), Jean Renoir’s La Grand Illusion (1937), and Terence Davies’ The Long Day Closes (1992): three titles that never move. Now and again, I’ll think about westerns, and suddenly remember how much I love The Searchers (1956) or Shane (1953), but those three movies are always at the top. If I were to pick one, I’d go for The Long Day Closes, because Terence Davies is probably my favourite director. He’s an unsung film-maker who has only managed to make a handful of movies in thirty years, none of which trouble box-office records, yet they’re glorious. Davies is a tremendous film-maker with a great eye and a real passion for cinema. That’s what I love about The Long Day Closes.
It’s an autobiographical tale of a young boy growing up in working class Liverpool, as Davies himself did. It’s less a narrative than a tone poem. It unfolds, not in a linear way, but in the manner of fragments remembered. These fragments could be radio clips, or the Shipping Forecast, or scenes from an old movie. In amongst the hardship which he suffered – the poverty, a violent father, the bullying he faced at school – he always found sanctity in the rituals of his family and friends; singing songs down the pub, and above and beyond, going to movies. It was pure escapism. He would leave behind a drab world of poverty, rain and brown houses, and enter a world of Hollywood Technicolor where Doris Day and Gene Kelly awaited. It’s the sort of epiphany that got a lot of people like me into cinema. We may not have experienced the hardship, but the same principle applied: the sheer joy of going to the cinema.
The Long Day Closes contains one of the great sequences that I’ve seen in any movie, where the young boy Bud is swinging on the railings outside in the street. Davis’ camera pans from above, to the tune of Tammy by Debbie Reynolds, a song from another of Davies’ favourite movies from that period. Suddenly, we’re looking overheard at a group of people in a cinema. We see the smoke coming up and going through the light of the projector. The camera moves along as the group suddenly becomes a congregation in a church. We hear a clip of Alec Guinness from Kind Hearts and Coronets as the camera continues to pan along and the congregation becomes schoolboys in a classroom. The seamless pan then cuts back to Bud swinging on the railings as the song finishes. It’s one of my favourite pieces of cinema.
Many audiences don’t get to experience the work of Terence Davies and therefore won’t be aware of The Long Day Closes, but it’s my choice of favourite movie.
Right Ho, Jeeves (1934, P.G. Wodehouse)
As a bookworm who always has a number of books on the go, I often ask myself if I were on a desert island, what would I bring as my book. Two or three titles always spring to mind. These include Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which I adore, and all of Flann O’Brien’s work, but particularly The Third Policeman. Every third or fourth book I read, however, has to be by PG Wodehouse. He’s the funniest writer I know. Reading his books is like wrapping yourself in a feel-good blanket. When it comes to his two greatest characters, Jeeves and Wooster, there are 35 stories and 11 novels to chose from, any of which I could choose, because I read and re-read them constantly. I’ve done it since I was a child, and I’ll do it to the end. I couldn’t go without a PG Wodehouse story – the world of stern aunts, foppish chaps and flighty flappers. Wodehouse’s comic prose is incredible. He has a way of phrasing things that is unique.
If I had to choose just one of the 11 novels, I’d go for Right Ho, Jeeves, mainly because of the sequence in which an inebriated Gussie Fink-Nottle presents prizes to the unsuspecting pupils of Market Snodsbury Grammar School. Gussie is one of the chaps from the Drones Club whose claim to fame is that he collects newts, which in itself is wonderful. Because of this habit, and the fact that he’s described as having a face like a fish, Wodehouse says of him, “You could have flung bricks by the half hour in England’s most densely populated districts without endangering the safety of a single girl willing to become Mrs Augustus Fink-Nottle without an anaesthetic.” There isn’t a word out of place. That type of phrasing, that hilarious use of language, I couldn’t be without. I’d happily take any of the 11 novels, but if I’m going to take one, I’ll take Right Ho, Jeeves.
Wish You Were Here (1975, Pink Floyd)
I interviewed film composer Dave Arnold recently who remarked that you should keep up to date with a lot of modern music, because if you spend all your time listening to the music you listened to as a child, you’ll still be playing your Led Zeppelin records at the age of 50. I’m afraid, I am that soldier! My favourites remain Zeppelin, Floyd and Hendrix, but I’m going to go for Floyd, Wish You Were Here.
This album came out in 1975, following on from Dark Side of the Moon, the album that sent Floyd into the stratosphere. A glorious album Wish You Were Here was produced at Abbey Road studios and it remains Dave Gilmour’s favourite Floyd album. There are only five tracks, two of which are about the industry itself – Welcome to the Machine and Have a Cigar: both are very scabrous takes on the music business. The band clearly weren’t impressed by what they saw from most A&R men and producers. Luckily, they were so popular after the success of Dark Side that could say what they liked; including having a go at record execs on the song, Have a Cigar:
“The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think,
Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?
And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it ‘Riding The Gravy Train’.”
Shine On You Crazy Diamond is the highpoint of the album. It’s a sweeping epic to match Comfortably Numb on The Wall. Written by Gilmour, Roger Waters and Richard Wright, it’s very much a tribute to their beloved former member, Syd Barrett, a man who was living with mental health issues at the time. Gilmour’s guitar playing here, as anyone who loves Floyd will tell you, is just incredible.
I had the good fortune to see Floyd live in Toronto in the 1980s, when the opening number was Wish You Were Here. There was a long runway into the stadium, and Gilmour walked out with an acoustic guitar, played the first three or four bars, and the whole place went into hysterics. A lot of modern bands try to emulate their sound, but for me there’s only one Pink Floyd, and I make no apologies for delving back into my record collection for my favourite album.