CINEMA /THEATRE : John Lyttle on film

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The Independent Culture
There are those IQ-free critics who condemn Terence Davies for being high-flown and painfully poetic. Actually, if the director of Distant Voices, Still Lives were any of the above, the Tennessee Williams/ Truman Capote-ish The Neon Bible would be a better film: Davies's perceived sensibility would perfectly mesh with the script's buckle of the Bible Belt Gothic (get this: Gena Rowlands, right, is a brave, brittle bar-room vocalist who can't vocalise). But, actually, he's the most practical of talents; a poet, yes, but a poet of the everyday. He sees magic in the mundane, the extra in the ordinary.

The Neon Bible doesn't come off, though on the surface it should. John Kennedy Toole's novel shares so many of Davies's own preoccupations - impacted family life etc - that it's shocking to observe how ill-matched the duo are. Kennedy, for instance, is rather cool and calculated; the central character, David, is a literary creation in the worst, self- infatuated sense. Davies, on the other hand, never seems to work to a plan: he seems to - how can this be best put? - discover his material. And, as Hallelujah Now and Still Lives prove, Davies can present his child self without sentimentality, no matter what the hardships and horrors endured. Imagination - the movies - is his great escape.

Which is why, even when Bible bashes itself, you don't mind. Yes, it's a collision, and the least of Davies's works to date, but despite its stylistic repetitions and forced auteur interjections, it's still more absorbing and more compelling than anything else around. Davies's under- par is better than most people's on-form - a message worth flashing in neon.