(aka 'Distant Voices, Still Lives')

Directed by Terence Davies
UK 1988

Terence Davies's stunning debut feature film Distant Voices, Still Lives was instantly recognised as a masterpiece on its release in 1988 and the director hailed as one of Britain's most gifted and remarkable filmmakers. Re-released in April 2007 as part of a complete retrospective season of Terence Davies's films at BFI Southbank, it was once again showered with critical acclaim.

Drawn from his own family memories, Distant Voices, Still Lives is a strikingly intimate portrait of working class life in 1940s and 1950s Liverpool. Focusing on the real-life experiences of his mother, sisters and brother whose lives are thwarted by their brutal, sadistic father (a chilling performance by Pete Postlethwaite), the film shows us beauty and terror in equal measure. Davies uses the traditional family gatherings of births, marriages and deaths to paint a lyrical portrait of family life - of love, grief, and the highs and lows of being human, a 'poetry of the everyday' that is at once deeply autobiographical and universally resonant.

****

Superlatives are in short supply to describe the emotional power of Terence Davies’ fractured chronicle of the life of a working-class family in 1940s and ’50s Liverpool. Drawing on his own childhood, Davies turns his film on the pivot of a brutal patriarch’s death and his daughter’s subsequent marriage, so splitting his film into two episodes (which he filmed a year apart). The first, ‘Distant Voices’, is a set of difficult memories of childhood fear and wartime suffering that drift in and out of the wedding day, while its companion, ‘Still Lives’, portrays the life of a happier widow, her two daughters, a son and their friends who gather in pubs, sing and are beginning to suffer their own marriages. Pete Postlethwaite is Tommy Davies, the violent, damaged and taciturn father; Freda Dowie is Mrs Davies, his stoic wife and the suffering lynchpin of the family; and Angela Walsh is Eileen, the daughter whose marriage blows a gust of fresh air into the stale misery of her family but also threatens to follow the same tragic pattern as her parents.

Davies’ storytelling is a unique joy. Images evoke family photos and the struggle of recollection. Voices drift in and out, suggestive of family ghosts and inner demons. Chronology is poetic, and memories are filtered after the event like the film’s washed-out colour palette. The writer-director offers a terrifying tension between the public solidarity of pub sing-a-longs, marriage celebrations and mourning and the private horror of domestic abuse, depression and personal dreams sought and destroyed. The men are the most flawed, but the women, though the heroines of the piece, are compromised too: ‘Why did you marry him, mam?’ asks a daughter. ‘He was nice. He was a good dancer…’ It’s a heartbreaking work. Its cast are phenomenal; its songs flow through the film like blood; and Davies is unflinching in his hunt for truth and full of nothing but love and understanding for his characters. A masterpiece.

Excerpt from Time Out Film Guide located HERE

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Theatrical Release: September 11th, 19988 - Toronto Film Festival

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DVD Review: BFI - Region 2 - PAL

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Distribution BFI Video - Region 2 - PAL
Runtime 1:20:30 
Video 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.69 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0) 
Subtitles English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: BFI Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1

Edition Details:

• Feature commentary by director Terence Davies
• Video interview with director Terence Davies
• Filmed introduction with Art Director Miki van Zwanenberg
• Original trailer
• 24-page liner notes booklet including essays by Beryl Bainbridge and Adrian Danks, an original review from the Monthly Film Bulletin and more. 

DVD Release Date: July 30th, 2007

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 12

 

Comments:

Yet another fabulous DVD package from BFI. Such an impressive, and at times understated, film that it's hard imagining it not touching everyone to some degree. The film's image is often intentionally styled to produce effects - age or photographic moments (sepia tinted or heavily grained) but the quality looks as true to theatrical as one could imagine. The transfer looks unmanipulated and there are no visible damage marks. Audio was clean and clear and it is support by optional English subtitles.

BFI have put some love in to this with many strong, relevant, extras. First a director commentary from Davis. He has a wonderfully soft-spoken accent and imparts production details that only the director would be aware of. There is also a 20 minute video interview with Davis by Geoff Andrew and a six minute intro from the Art Director Miki van Zwanenberg. BFI include the original trailer but I also got a lot out of the liner notes booklet with essays by Beryl Bainbridge (entitled Bittersweet Symphony) and Adrian Danks (The Art of Memory), plus an original review from the Monthly Film Bulletin and a Davis biography.

In conclusion I'd say this is just about a perfect DVD package. Although I had heard of the film I had never had the privilege of seeing it. Magnificent... and BFI continue to impress as a company that cares by bring it to us with extensive effort, care and diligence on their part. Bravo! I strongly suggest owning this DVD. Very strongly.  

Gary W. Tooze

 

 



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Distribution BFI Video - Region 2 - PAL




 

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