Monday, July 30, 2012


I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island. I hoped this would, among other things, take a little of the sharpness out of the violence, but still keep its dreamy quality - Terrence Malick

For the last two months I've been a writing machine churning out stuff for all three sites at the same time (PINNALAND, The Pink Smoke & Flud). Coincidentally half of the stuff I've written about has been Terrence Malick-related in some way (The Thin Red Line, Ratcatcher, Tree Of Life, The films of Jeff Nichols and the multiple references to George Washington). Anyone who's a fan of Lynne Ramsay, early David Gordon Green and Jeff Nichols should know that the quote above about nostalgia speaks volumes about Terrence Malick's influence.Whenever you read anything on Ratcatcher, George Washington, All The Real Girls or Shotgun Stories it's a safe bet that Malick's name will be dropped at least once along with the word; timeless. Besides the music, haunting voice-over narration (depending on the movie), characters frolicking in tall fields of grass and that overall dreaminess, what Ratcatcher, George Washington and other similar films set in the country or rural areas like Gummo, Undertow (also directed by Green), Ballast and Shotgun Stories have in common is their timeless feel. What I mean by timeless is the "look". These films almost look as if they could take place in the 1950's or today with the same exact settings, dialogue and wardrobe. The pickup trucks in Shotgun Stories and All The Real Girls look as if they came right out of Badlands. The simple white t-shirt & jeans worn by the actors in George Washington and Undertow (both films set in the present) look like they came right off of Martin Sheen's body in Badlands which is set in the 1950's. The characters in Ballast, Shotgun Stories and All The Real Girls have the same drawl and lingo as the characters in Badlands. Ratcatcher is the one unique film in the bunch in that it takes place in another country (Scotland) yet still has the same feel as an American film set in the south. Malick is kinda right in that nostalgia can distract the viewer. By keeping everything minimal, not constantly calling out what year it is and setting the story out in the country where you don't see modern architecture or new cars (still with the occasional, subtle nod to the period in time the story takes place) the audience won't feel the need to focus on unimportant details. I'm sure certain parts of the south still look as if it was untouched since the 1950's. 
Terrence Malick is one of the few directors around that still shows the laid back poetic side of the south and shies away from stereotypical shit like overalls, skipping rocks and other ignorant preconceived notions people may have about the south. 

Notice the similarity in the music used in this scene from Ratcatcher (1999) and the voice-over in George Washington...

Badlands is also known for its cinematography and use of the "magic hour" throughout the film...

Badlands, Terrence Malick's feature film debut, is based on the true story of fugitive lovers; Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. In the film, "Kit" (played by Martin Sheen in a performance that rivals Apocalypse Now) and "Holly" (played by Sissy Spacek in a performance that's reminiscent of her role as Pinky in the first half of Altman's 3 Women) go on the run and have a mini killing spree (all the killing was done by Kit) after Kit murders Holly's father. Kit may be one of the most unique characters Terrence Malick has ever crafted as he's a somewhat detached, sociopathic child trapped in a grown man's body. For a film that's partially about murder, Badlands is pretty light and dreamlike. I guess the lightness and dreaminess of the film comes from the music and the beautiful cinematography. Badlands is told from the perspective of Holly (a somewhat naive teenager) through voice-over narration that would soon become a staple in Malick's films. But unlike everything Malick has done since the late 90's, the voiceover in Badlands, which is still airy & dreamy, actually has structure and chronicles their day to day lives instead of random poetic phrases and quotes like in The New World and The Tree Of Life. The sudden change in style of Malick's voice-over narration between his work from the 70's and 90's always intrigued me because there was no progression. After his first two films with their more narrative style he "disappeared' for two decades then resurfaced with a new found use of subconscious/existential voice-over that influenced stuff like George Washington. And speaking of influence, Badlands also had its share of somewhat random/odd moments that influenced future random/odd moments in films like All The Real Girls (the dancing clown scene is very similar to the scene where Sissy Spacek & Martin Sheen dance together) and the overall work of Harmony Korine (certain scenes in Gummo have the same randomness as the scene towards the end of Badlands where Martin Sheen is charming the police officers). Jamie Bell yelling and playing in the rain in Undertow is reminiscent of Martin Sheen playfully yelling and running through the woods with his riffle. I'd say Badlands is one of the more quietly influential influential films of the last 40+ years. 
Badlands also features a rare cameo by Mr. secrecy himself; Terrence Malick (that's right, not even the most private of directors can resist making a cameo in their own movie).


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