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J.A.A. Purves

Badlands (1973)

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So first of all, I finally got a copy of this to see it. Good luck finding it at a Borders or Best Buy or anywhere else (I had to just order it off Amazon). Second, I kind of find it hard to believe no one has started a thread on this yet, but using google and this site's search engine I certainly can't find one.

"Terrence Malick's 1973 first feature is a film so rich in ideas it hardly knows where to turn. Transcendent themes of love and death are fused with a pop-culture sensibility and played out against a midwestern background, which is breathtaking both in its sweep and in its banality."
- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader



It's going to take me some time to digest this now that I've seen it. In the meantime, I've found two references to this being like a fairy tale -

First,
"The real Starkweather was nicknamed the Mad Dog Killer. By contrast, there's nothing obviously savage or psychotic about Sheen's aimless, restless, James Dean wannabe Kit Carruthers. Sheen described Malick's direction of his gunplay, as using it like a magic wand - someone's in your way, you wave it and like that, they disappear. It's a description that perfectly nails Kit's casual, child-like amorality."
- Leigh Singer, Film4

Second, from an interview with Terence Malick himself -
"I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island. I hoped this owuld, among other htings, take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality. Children's books are full of violence. Long John Silver slits the throats of the faithful crew. Kit and Holly even think of themselves as living in a fairy tale. Holly says, "Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened." But she enough believes there is such a place that she must confess to you she never got there.'
- Beverly Walker, Malick on Badlands (read the whole interview, it's worth it)

More thoughts when I've had time to think. I read a number of reviews after seeing the film. Jardine's had some of the more interesting things to say -

"The comfort factor in the film goes beyond the basic need for us to connect sympathetically with the main characters. In any such story this need is precisely basic insofar as we always have to make this connection, even with anti-heros, and it is only at the end when 'justice must be served' that we are supposed to divorce our selves and take the moral (hypocritical) high road. In Badlands, however, we are not asked to make this hypocritical turn at the end and we wouldn't do it even if it were asked of us. Because we genuinely like these people. They are not the 'bad guys' that we use as cathartic stick-men for our own dark fantasies, that we like only temporarily so we can feel good about ourselves in the end. They are just 'nice regular folk'' who, heh heh, are horrifyingly weird and lethal.

And yet - and this is really what I'm groping for here - there is nothing horrifying about them. Set in the 50s as it is, the film is almost right-wing in its nostalgic tone. The killer is so polite. Sure he's a roughneck. But he doesn't cuss and fight. He doesn't take advantage of the girl, heck, he's as sincere as a fella can be. The sexual nature of their romance is hardly shown and when it is, clearly it is of secondary importance to their bond. He talks to his elders and superiors with respect and deference. He is almost regretful when he finds it necessary to choose defiance. Everything is benign at bedrock in a world of trust and commnity with only the most minimal class cleavage -except a bunch of peole have to die. Not by accident, no, but not exactly by sinister design either. It's as if we all woke up and the town just happend to be tipped on a strange angle."

- Dan Jardine, Cinemania

Thinking back some of the other reviews I read, I'm just not quite sure how Badlands is supposed to be both "naturalistic" and "otherworldly", "realistic" and "ethereal" both at the same time. It seems like the reviewers' attempts at describing his work keep contradicting themselves. I'd go more along the lines of saying there is something slightly unreal about this film. And yet, he accomplishes it by filming different stunning landscape shots of creation.

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Anders   

Here's my quick response to viewing BADLANDS on the film review website my brothers and I have set up.

I liked it a lot, and may make it a priority to revisit all 3 of Malick's other films before TREE OF LIFE comes out. I think that BADLANDS offers a lens to view the rest of Malick's films that perhaps helps one see that his films aren't mere "airy-fairy nature worship." That naive view would be Holly's in this film.

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I think that BADLANDS offers a lens to view the rest of Malick's films that perhaps helps one see that his films aren't mere "airy-fairy nature worship." That naive view would be Holly's in this film.

Sure. Nevertheless, it may also be true that Malick's films have their sentimental aspects, even if it can't be so rightly painted as "airy-fairy nature worship."

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Anders   

I think that BADLANDS offers a lens to view the rest of Malick's films that perhaps helps one see that his films aren't mere "airy-fairy nature worship." That naive view would be Holly's in this film.

Sure. Nevertheless, it may also be true that Malick's films have their sentimental aspects, even if it can't be so rightly painted as "airy-fairy nature worship."

I don't think that "sentimental" should always be considered a pejorative.

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I think that BADLANDS offers a lens to view the rest of Malick's films that perhaps helps one see that his films aren't mere "airy-fairy nature worship." That naive view would be Holly's in this film.

Sure. Nevertheless, it may also be true that Malick's films have their sentimental aspects, even if it can't be so rightly painted as "airy-fairy nature worship."

I don't think that "sentimental" should always be considered a pejorative.

Perhaps not, but in this case, I do mean it as such.

An interesting essay might be written on the enormous number of words that are used as insults when they are really compliments. It is in itself a singular study in that tendency which, as I have said, is always making things out worse than they are, and necessitating a systematic attitude of defence. Thus, for example, some dramatic critics cast contempt upon a dramatic performance by calling it theatrical, which simply means that it is suitable to a theatre, and is as much a compliment as calling a poem poetical. Similarly we speak disdainfully of a certain kind of work as sentimental, which simply means possessing the admirable and essential quality of sentiment.

- G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant, A Defence of Publicity

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Brian D   

Pauline Kael dismissed this film with a fairly negative review back in its day. I almost always find Kael's reviews entertaining in their wit and extreme opinions, but I very often don't agree with them. Perhaps, then, I will like this film when I see it. Just watching Days of Heaven right now...

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Jeffrey Wells linked to this oral history on the making of the film, featuring interviews with quite a few of the cast and crew who worked on it. One of the Martin Sheen quotes that Wells highlighted is kind of funny, considering Malick's reputation as a mystic or whatever:

Lou Stroller made some comment about Mrs. Malick, and Terry was not having it, and beat the hell out of him. In true Texas style—he was so Texas. Didn't even hesitate, just started swinging. They were down like two buffalo—they were big guys—and they were on the ground, rolling around, and Terry just whupped him. Oh, I acted outraged—"What a breakdown of discipline, this fighting on the set!"—but I couldn't have been prouder of him. Can you imagine? If more directors would beat up their producers, we'd have a lot more artistic freedom.

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Jeffrey Wells linked to this oral history on the making of the film, featuring interviews with quite a few of the cast and crew who worked on it. One of the Martin Sheen quotes that Wells highlighted is kind of funny, considering Malick's reputation as a mystic or whatever:

Lou Stroller made some comment about Mrs. Malick, and Terry was not having it, and beat the hell out of him. In true Texas style—he was so Texas. Didn't even hesitate, just started swinging. They were down like two buffalo—they were big guys—and they were on the ground, rolling around, and Terry just whupped him. Oh, I acted outraged—"What a breakdown of discipline, this fighting on the set!"—but I couldn't have been prouder of him. Can you imagine? If more directors would beat up their producers, we'd have a lot more artistic freedom.

Classic Sheen quip about Directors beating up Producers as a boon for artistic freedom.

mal.jpg

Malick the Pugilist (from this review).

Edited by Mark T. Ingham

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