'The Neon Bible' Sets Lyrical Tone
With glowing images and expressive acting, film director Terence Davies probes the intense perceptions of a youth
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This sense of rightness may have stemmed from a fascination with the mysteries of childhood that Davies and Toole share with the main character of the story.Skip to next paragraph
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''I responded to that child because he's experiencing the world,'' Davies says with an edge of passion in his voice. ''Children experience the world with such power! Images burn into you like acid, and you never, never forget them. I wanted to show that paradise can be lost, and yet you still can actually enjoy it while it's there.''
Another reason for Davies's attraction to this project was the chance to work with American performers for the first time. ''I looked forward to that very much,'' the British filmmaker says, ''because I think their tradition is thrilling.''
His stars returned the compliment by turning in first-rate performances. ''Terence has a more formal style than I'm used to,'' said Rowlands in Cannes, ''and he has a real dedication to the written word. But he is the most emotional director I've encountered. When he likes something you do, he jumps off his seat and starts laughing and dancing happily around. When he doesn't like something, he sits and stares at the ground for a while. There's something about a person so emotionally unguarded that makes him easy to work for.''
Davies readily admits that his saturated mixtures of images and sounds are unusual in today's movie world, but he backs away from trying to explain his methods. ''I don't know where the style comes from,'' he says with a trace of bemusement. ''I only know that's how I see it, that's how I hear it, that's how I frame it. It's an instinctive thing.''
Pursuing this theme, he traces some elements of his approach to religious imagery he saw as a child in England, imagery marked by a great deal of symmetry.
Other elements may have come from another childhood preoccupation. ''I was constantly looking in and out of doors,'' he recalls, ''looking from my house - which I loved - into the outside world, and then looking from the outside into my house. That still has tremendous power for me - that you see sunlight outside and dark shadows inside, with details in them. That thrills me more than I can say, just as it thrills me when a child reaches out and tries to touch the moon. I've seen children do it. I've tried to do it.''
Not every influence on Davies comes from childhood, of course. He is moved by greatness in both classical and popular music - he speaks of Dmitri Shostakovich and Doris Day with equal rapture - and by favorite works of literature and the stage. Asked about his fondness for Anton Chekhov, he replies that the Russian dramatist ''invented the subtext - where what is not said is just as important as what is said.'' This points to the importance of nuance, suggestion, and even silence in Davies's films. As often happens, he illustrates this point with a memory from long ago.
''I remember sitting on the stairs in my house on a Saturday,'' he says, ''waiting for the others to come in. I remembered all the conversations I'd heard there ... and [suddenly] the house was alive with memory. I like the idea of juxtaposing empty corridors and rooms with memories of the people who used to be in them. We invest houses and buildings with our memories. And those memories are so powerful.''
So, for a growing number of moviegoers, are Davies's films.