I had a double feature earlier this early morning of the first two joints in his oeuvre; the showtime was unintentional, it just worked out that way. But watching them that late at night/early in the morning is a cool way to watch a Malick flick because afterwards you can step outside and take a walk while the sun is slowly rising and the grass & leaves have that morning dew on them and you’re still under the fuckin’ Terrence Malick Nature Spell, that shit is 10x more of an experience.
You know, there was a time long ago when I considered Badlands a good-but-not-great movie, one that showed Malick’s potential that would go fully/better explored in future films. That was also the time when I had suffered from severe breathing problems as a result of having my head fully implanted up my ass. I say this because watching this film again after a six-year gap from the last time I watched it, I’m now declaring that this motherfucker Malick had it going the fuck on from the start. From the fucking first frame of film, he had it. I guess his is what most would call an “assured debut”, and by “most”, I mean me.
Perfect casting man, that’s what Badlands has; Martin Sheen is great as this James Dean-looking dude, he exudes enough of that cool/dangerous vibe about him that it makes sense why a bored teenage girl would think of him as dreamy. And I liked how casual he makes it look when he kills someone, but he’s not some MWAHAHA psycho, either. I don’t think he necessarily enjoys it, it’s more like something he feels he has to do because there’s no other way around it — and yet, it comes so easy to him.
Like, I think he hates it when he shoots someone and then realizes they’re still alive because it means he now has to choose to finish the victim off or not. He picks the latter and waits for them to die of their wounds, or in the case of that one couple in the shed, he doesn’t even check, he’d rather assume he got them and takes off. I don’t think it’s some kind of psycho enjoyment deal, I think he can only commit to the deed as far as shooting them and then hoping they’re dead because the last thing he wants to do is shoot them again. What a fuckin’ weirdo.
Sissy Spacek, to my knowledge, was only hot in one movie — Prime Cut — and that was it, after that, she had more of the attractive vibe to her without actually being attractive, if that makes sense (and it doesn’t). She’s great, she looks the part and she manages to make it come across that while she’s not dumb, most of her narration shows how dim and/or eager-to-believe she is to accept Sheen’s justifications for the things he does. If she ever objects to any of this, she certainly isn’t showing/telling, at least not in some showy This Is Wrong kind-of-way. Sometimes it’s best just to walk away and let the other guy make up his mind.
Malick himself shows up as some dude who gets assed out of visiting the rich dude Sheen & Spacek are currently holding hostage. Supposedly someone else was gonna play the part and he didn’t show up, so my man T.M. played that shit. Nowadays he’s all fuckin’ sensitive about having his picture taken, but he didn’t seem to mind acting in his first movie. Maybe he figured that was good enough; he was about 30 or so when he made that movie, and that’s as good as he was ever going to look, so maybe he doesn’t mind having that as his reference. Except there’s also that picture of him that was taken of him on the set of The Thin Red Line with this Well How About That? look on his face, and now I see that there are some recent pics at a couple award ceremonies. I don’t know where I’m going with this now, so I’ll move on.
He’s kind of an enigma, this dude; on the one hand, you have actors on his last couple films go on about what a fucking master he is at his craft, and how wonderful it was to watch him work, and on the other, you read about how he wasn’t the most actor-friendly on Days of Heaven and you’re wondering Just What In The Fuck Am I Supposed To Believe Here?
Maybe both stories are true, maybe he was more about visuals with his ‘78 joint and during his 20-year hiatus, he learned how to rock a thespian’s world while trying to shoot a pretty picture. There’s a pretty awesome book called “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”, and that Jewfro-wearing motherfucker Peter Biskind writes about how Malick shot miles and miles of footage, went overbudget, then took about two years to find the movie in editing. Luckily the film ended up a masterpiece, because otherwise I don’t think we’d hear from that motherfucker ever again.
It’s like with Michael Cimino; granted he spent tons more cash and time making Heaven’s Gate, but if that film ended up being a box-office success and award-winner, his maddening style of shooting would’ve been justified. But it wasn’t, so now people bring up the examples of how he filmed and edited that shit as What Not To Do.
I mean, David Fincher shoots about as much footage as Michael Cimino did and no one is bitching/warning others about his method. But then again, Fincher stays on budget, that probably saved him right there. Same with the late Stanley Kubrick (as opposed to the alive-and-well Stanley Kubrick who’s living next door to me, playing his fuckin’ Steely Dan albums way too fuckin’ loud); his movie shoots lasted longer than most Italian governments but because he used a small crew and had it down to a science, his budgets were no bigger than your average Hollywood film.
Biskind also wrote something that I’m not quite ready to believe (that tends to happen with a lot of the shit Biskind writes), about how once Malick was sitting down and brought himself up by grabbing onto producer Edward R. Pressman’s ear and pulling from it. Holy shit, if that’s true, then Malick isn’t quite the peaceful, introspective nature-lover that his movies lead you to believe he is. Besides, doesn’t it take about seven pounds of pressure to pull a motherfucker’s ear off? Malick’s a big dude and the most recent photo of Pressman shows him with both ears intact. Maybe Malick was just holding it to freak Pressman out while he stood up, like Look What I Can Fuckin’ Do To Your Ear If I Wanted To.
Richard Gere is in this and if I gave a shit about him, I’d continue, so instead let me talk a bit about Brooke Adams. Again, typically perfect casting in a Malick joint. She’s very pretty but she also has an air of the street about her; she looks like she came from hard times, whereas most actresses who try to play like they’re slumming it look like princesses playing make-believe and I don’t buy ‘em. You know she’s married to Tony Shalhoub? I didn’t, but good work, Monk.
Sam Shepard is in this movie too, and watching him on the beautiful Criterion Blu-ray, I think here he looks like a guy who probably had a one-night-stand menage with Jim Carrey’s mom and Denis Leary’s mom, then after he shot his load and they were like “Call us?”, he was all “See ya later, sluts — I have plays to write because the stage, she waits for no man!”
I guess the narration in Days of Heaven wasn’t originally part of the movie, that was some shit Malick came up with while trying to figure out how to edit the motherfucker. I really like it, it has such a rambling, stream-of-consciouness feel and plus Linda Manz has a serious fuckin’ low-class city accent, it’s hilarious. The unrehearsed/unprepared-sounding narration also makes a fantastic contrast to the expertly-composed/beautifully-lit visuals.
To be honest, the story isn’t as important to me in these joints and I don’t think they are to Malick, either. Otherwise, I’d be able to hear the fuckin’ dialogue clearly, over the ultra-crisp sounds of the breeze passing through the wheat fields, or the tweeting of birds or the running of a stream. Even Ennio Muthafuckin’ Morricone’s beautiful music has to take a backseat to The Sounds of Nature. Compared to all of that, the dialogue is very mumbly and low — Malick’s all like Mumblecore THIS, You Motherfuckers.
Or maybe it’s not so much that Malick doesn’t care about story — fuck that, he cares a lot about story — it’s that he doesn’t particularly care about the blah blah blah coming out the actor’s mouths. The characters talk because you have to give the actors something to say, that way they don’t bitch and complain, but the visuals tell you everything you need to know about what’s going. That’s why what little dialogue there is, is pretty cut down to the bone.
Terrence Malick joints really do need to be seen on the biggest screen you can find; I think the reason why I probably liked Badlands a whole lot more this time is that I was watching it from my projector (which I didn’t have, the last time I saw Badlands). Man, the projector is one of the best investments I ever made (back when I had that kind of cash to throw away) and I highly recommend getting one if you can. You don’t even have to get a top of the line one, at least I don’t think so, just get one that is bright and displays a big image.
Granted, I’ve never been anal about line-resolution and stuff like that — the older rig I have only goes to 720p, and I’m sure your average contributor to Home Theater Magazine would scoff at my setup and the highest praise he’d give it is “quaint”, but that’s OK, I’m happy with it and maybe one day I’ll have the cash to upgrade to some 1080p shit.