Distant Voices, Still Lives

Director: Terence Davies
Screenwriters: Terence Davies

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Distant Voices, Still Lives is a photo album of memories from director Terence Davies’s life growing up in Liverpool in the 1940s and 1950s. At the center is his working-class family: his fun-loving sister Eileen; his sweeter, quieter sister Maisie; his sometimes caring, but more often abusive, father; and his mother, whose steadfast love and strength binds them all together. The film is a series of fragmented vignettes stitched together by music, ranging from old folk songs like “The Water Is Wide,” through blues, gospel and traditional standards, up to the popular songs of the day. This music informs their lives, expressing their joys and sorrows and often saving them from despair, and it is this music which lifts the film from the level of kitchen-sink melodrama and makes it unique. Davies uses music to bridge scenes, to establish moods, and as ironic counterpoint—as the family huddles together in an air-raid shelter, they sing “Roll out the Barrel”; “Taking a Chance on Love” plays on the sound track as their father beats their mother. But more movingly, it is the principal form of communication linking the family members to each other and the broader community around them; they would be inarticulate without it. In Distant Voices, Still Lives Davies turns his life into art.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

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