The Neon Bible | Chicago Reader

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After showing himself a master at juggling autobiographical material in Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, both dealing with his childhood in Liverpool during the 50s, Terence Davies adapts a novel by John Kennedy Toole about growing up in the rural deep south in the late 30s and 40s—and it's remarkable how persuasively he handles this milieu while making it wholly his own. Two substantial assists are provided by Gena Rowlands (starring as the narrator-hero's disreputable aunt, a onetime torch singer) and the 'Scope format, both of which boost some of the mythological possibilities in the material. Davies's special gifts as a filmmaker have much more to do with expressing and sculpting passages of pure feeling than with telling a story. Diana Scarwid, as the hero's fragile mother, is almost as good as Rowlands (both actresses sing in this movie, and Davies turns their songs into incandescent experiences). Neither Toole's novel nor Davies's faithful version of it adds up to anything more than a period mood piece, but some of the passages in this movie are so beautiful and potent that you may carry the moods around with you for weeks. With Jacob Tierney, Denis Leary, and Leo Burmester.

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