the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Days of Heaven











I write film and TV reviews for DVDFanatic. Here is a truncated version of one of those recent reviews.


Just as Days of Heaven relies on its painterly images and jettisons every scrap of irrelevant dialogue to tell its story, so too is it difficult to capture in words a formal description befitting a film as wondrous as this.

In a career spanning 40 years, director Terrence Malick has made only four feature length films. Yet each is regarded as an undisputed masterpiece and Malick himself as one of cinema’s most extraordinary artists.

Told through the eyes of an innocent child (Linda Manz), Days of Heaven, Malick’s second film, tells the story of two lovers, Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) who pretend to be brother and sister after fleeing Chicago to work on a Texas wheat farm. The wealthy owner of the farm (Sam Shepard) is dying of a terminal illness and Bill conceives of a plan in which Abby gets the farmer to fall in love with her, so that when he dies, all his assets will become theirs. Bill’s plan seems to be succeed, but when the farmer’s health improves, Bill finds he cannot sit idly by watching Abby in the arms of another man. A confrontation of Biblical proportions is inevitable.

Days of Heaven needs no more plot summation than that. The film is more silent film than traditional narrative. Though it was scripted and even shot with a conventional through-line, Malick took two years cutting the film together, paring away every superfluous syllable. Malick does not care about narrative velocity or structured plot. His films are sense impressions, dream images—fragmented, impressionistic and completely unconventional.

Forget the trite praise for the painter Thomas Kinkade—it is Malick who truly paints with light. His films are suffused with it. You can feel its very texture. Taste it on the tip of your tougue. His cinematography is Vermeer in motion.

Malick’s vision—prolonged, contemplative and visually indulgent—needs to be experienced, not seen. He is more poet than filmmaker, philosopher than director, an artist so in tune with the lyricism of the natural world that he comes across as part of it rather than its mere observer. Nature is not simply another character in his films—it is his only character. Human beings are superfluous.

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