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The Thin Red Line (1998)


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Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 2 months later...

Beautiful cover. I want to see this film again.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I saw this one when it came out--hated it. Thought it was one of the most pretentious and boring films I'd seen up to that point. Something tells me I would no longer have that reaction.

I didn't hate it, but I didn't really like it, and I've wanted to see it again for years because exactly like you, I think I would no longer have that reaction.

Edit: For the search, Malick. Links to Tree of Life (2010), The New World (2005), Days of Heaven (1978).

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: I saw this one when it came out--hated it. Thought it was one of the most pretentious and boring films I'd seen up to that point. Something tells me I would no longer have that reaction.

Oh, you might. Even Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his celebration of the film, said it "bored" him at times, and not in a good way.

FWIW, the second time I saw the film, I remember spending the first two hours thinking, "Huh, this isn't as bad as I remembered," and then spending the third hour thinking, "Oh, right, yeah, it is."

I say this, BTW, as one who likes Days of Heaven and the first two versions of The New World (haven't seen the third; and I haven't seen Badlands in so, so long that I can't honestly say I have an opinion on it one way or the other right now).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 months later...

Jessica Winter @ Slate.com:

"It seems to me that Terry does so much of his work in the editing room," explains production designer Jack Fisk on the commentary—but there, too, Malick works in mysterious ways. According to one of The Thin Red Line's three editors, Billy Weber, Malick saw a full version of the film exactly once: a five-hour work print assembled during the 18-month-long post-production process, and screened for him under some duress. ("We forced him to watch," Weber says in an interview.) Otherwise, Malick edited by watching one reel at a time, with the sound off, while listening to a Green Day CD. If he missed any dialogue, it stayed in; if he didn't, it would likely be supplanted by music or voiceover. "I don't think he was capable of seeing the movie as a whole during the process," co-editor Leslie Jones says evenly. "…That was a big adjustment."

It's an adjustment for viewers, too, especially for that fervent cult of fans who have psychoanalyzed, memorized, and immersed themselves in The Thin Red Line over the years. (Among the men in my family, Nick Nolte's volatile Col. Tall is as eminently quotable as Jeff Lebowski.) It's startling to find out that this same obsession-worthy film is not one that its director could find cause to watch in full or to edit with the sound on. . . .

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 5 weeks later...

I watched it again last night, for what I think was the fourth time, only to find my appreciation of the film has deepened tremendously. I may actually go and buy it for my library now, which says a lot about my attachment to the film since I almost never buy DVD's.

I've returned to the film over the past few years because I loved New World so much and because of long-time fascination with the Pacific Theater. And for the record, I was among that crowd that found it a dragging, convoluted mess the first time I saw it. It may still be a convoluted mess... but it is a gorgeous and hypnotic mess too, glaring revisionist liberties and all. It's a majestic viewing experience for me now.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I watched it again this weekend too, having just picked up the Criterion DVD, and was surprised at just how many overlapping moments there are with The New World. The openings of the two films seem deliberately crafted to suggest that they are part of a series -- the light on the water, the people playing in the water, shots from underwater directing our attention skyward to the light...

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I've found that several of my original complaints about the film, are now distinctives that actually make it more compelling. Most notably-- the constant, seemingly arbitrary, shuffling of characters, cameos and voiceovers (who IS that talking now?) initially left me feeling disconnected from all of them. Having surrendered to Malick's style at this juncture in my life, I now find all of the characters quite vivid and their struggles and wrestlings leave their indelible mark via these fluid, often dream-like cadences.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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  • 1 month later...

THE THIN RED LINE is set, to the extent it's set anywhere other than inside Terrence Malick's head (doubtful), during World War II. Therefore, the relevance of experience from 60 years later -- after universalization of high-school education, the normalization of college education, the GI Bill, etc. -- is ... unclear at best. **Especially in 1942-43** with a drafted Army and a West Point trained officer corps (you ever wonder why West Point bears so much resemblance in so many ways to a liberal-arts college) there were HUGE education gaps between the officers and enlisted corps.

vjmorton,

First of all, I didn't mean for anything I wrote to sound to you like I was saying I was better than you for liking Malick's films when you didn't. I was writing forcefully because I was reacting against the idea that, because regular old army enlisted men aren't educated in philosophy, it was unbelievable in the film for them to be asking the questions that they were asking in the film. Now you're saying that none of the questions in the film were deep anyway, and later you say they weren't original. I can only say that the average education for most men fighting in WWII was far superior to the education of the men fighting in wars today. Therefore, complaining that it's unbelievable for the characters in The Thin Red Line to ask themselves questions about life and death and meaning because they aren't philosophy majors is not a legitimate criticism of the film.

THE THIN RED LINE has exactly 1 1/2 thoughts -- "gosh, isn't nature beautiful" and [the half] "why does Man eff it up with War." I'm sorry ... that is thin, thin gruel for three hours. It also happens to be cliched twaddle, though I guess this means I have no soul. No wonder you like THE THIN RED LINE. I'm with Herzog, nature is not beautiful (though man can make it look that way), unless it be the case by definition independent of any and all observation. (And am I free to call that kind of a-priorism "wack.") Simply pointing a camera and gawking at The Beauty of It All is lazy, unempirical thought and more importantly ... it's not relevant to a film's quality anyway. You are confusing a film with its subject matter. Malick's film is boring, not because nature is ugly, but because showing nothing but that for 90-100 minutes (and never straying far from that for the other hour) is boring. I got the point within five and unless you've created memorable persons or characters, the actual meat of drama, this unrepentant urbanite will lose interest in ten.

But that completely ignores the entire story. Jim Caviezel's Private Witt is a believer. He may not be evangelically correct in terminology, but he believes in God and goodness, and he is trying to reconcile these beliefs with his experience in the Battle of Guadalcanal and with his fear of death. On the other hand, Sean Penn's First Sergeant Welsh is a disbeliever - he doesn't believe in God, meaning to life, or perhaps even good or evil. But, Witt is having an affect on Sgt. Welsh. His love and kindness throughout the battle puzzles Welsh because he doesn't understand it. Witt tells him he believes in another world (this isn't just Nature worship btw) that Welsh doesn't believe in. And whether Caviezel's character will be able to change Welsh's character is just one of about 5 or 6 different storylines followed by the film. Yes, it's slow. Yes, it's a meditative film - easy to dismiss if you aren't taking the time to pay attention. But, if you give it more of a chance, I honestly believe you'll be suprised and find yourself getting something worthwhile out of it.

I will criticize Malick for not engaging me if I bloody well want to and if he bloody well didn't. And it IS an artist's responsibility to engage you. Remember how you said he was an acquired taste ... that was awesome.

Look, I know this is an idea I've gone over before in the Roger Scruton Why Beauty Matters thread, but it is an artist's responsibility to portray beauty in works of art. The better the skill of the artist and the greater the subject matter, the more a work of art has of being great, of appealing to universal truths that can affect every person, no matter who that person is. Granted, the test of time proves this to a greater extent. But for example, there's a point where is someone says they don't like the music of Mozart and Bach, then that "failure to engage" says more about that person than it does about Mozart or Bach's work. I'm using this example because when I was younger, I disliked both Mozart and Bach - and I will admit right now that the reason I didn't was because part of me was dead inside. Are there great directors today who make a few rare films that appeal to something spiritually in people? I believe there are, and I believe Malick is one of them. You are obviously free to disagree, but remember to start asking yourself what it is exactly that makes a film into a great work of art. Exploring that question is one of the reasons I've enjoyed the discussions here at Arts and Faith.

But the Malick fanboy's knee jerked anyway, so there's no point in not saying it. I won't pretend that my distaste for TTRL and Malick has nothing whatever to do with critical defenders who make statements like that at those of us unconvinced of his mastery. Liking Malick, for at least one person here (and he's not the first I've come across), seems to serve as an aesthetic version of "conspicuous consumption," proof of how refined one is and (for example) how Hollywoof schlockmeister Steven Spielberg and his updated John Wayne film are mere popcorn for the stupid masses while Malick makes Art for we few discerning types. Veblen, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

So, to be clear. I believe most of the movies that come out today are crap. I believe our modern day culture is losing it's sense for what is beautiful or meaningful and more focused instead of fulfilling appetites, however fleetingly. I believe most films that come out today are anti-intellectual and appeal to the lowest-common denominator. But the main reason this saddens me is not because I'm better than anyone else. It's because I'm susceptible to being sucked into a consumer culture appealing to my appetites like that. I'd appeal to you that if you're unwilling to keep trying Malick, do so for a good reason because you believe he's promoting pantheism or something (and then discuss that with other guys here who have seen every one of his films and may even have been able to talk to him). But you don't have to consider yourself part a cultural elite to like Malick. You just have to be trying to find something of worth in the midst of a very short attention span, impatient, consumerist culture.

Edited to add: Oh, and by "Spielberg's updated John Wayne film" are you by any chance referring to True Grit?

Edited by Persiflage
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I can only say that the average education for most men fighting in WWII was far superior to the education of the men fighting in wars today. Therefore, complaining that it's unbelievable for the characters in The Thin Red Line to ask themselves questions about life and death and meaning because they aren't philosophy majors is not a legitimate criticism of the film.
Good point. The Pacific theater memoirs and accounts, are full of the type of soul wrestling and longing found in TTRL voiceovers. I find nothing historically bogus or incredible in any of those sentiments. The quality of education at that time in american history combined with the tropical setting and the unique (and horrific) psychological challenges of those specific battles, seemed to draw those thoughts out of many of our soldiers.

Jim Caviezel's Private Witt is a believer. He may not be evangelically correct in terminology, but he believes in God and goodness, and he is trying to reconcile these beliefs with his experience in the Battle of Guadalcanal and with his fear of death. On the other hand, Sean Penn's First Sergeant Welsh is a disbeliever - he doesn't believe in God, meaning to life, or perhaps even good or evil. But, Witt is having an affect on Sgt. Welsh. His love and kindness throughout the battle puzzles Welsh because he doesn't understand it. Witt tells him he believes in another world (this isn't just Nature worship btw) that Welsh doesn't believe in. And whether Caviezel's character will be able to change Welsh's character is just one of about 5 or 6 different storylines followed by the film.
And to what degree Welsh has been impacted by Witt, or has changed at all when he leaves, is wisely left unanswered by Malick. Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I was writing forcefully because I was reacting against the idea that, because regular old army enlisted men aren't educated in philosophy, it was unbelievable in the film for them to be asking the questions that they were asking in the film.

It's a bit unbelievable for them to be asking the questions as they are phrased. Malick has an affection for purple prose.

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Just had a thought: Isn't it kind of telling that even Malick HIMSELF can't be bothered to sit through this film? Reportedly, he sat through an entire rough cut of this film at one point in post-production because the crew forced him to. But apart from that, he has reportedly never focused on more than one sequence at a time. Sorry, but, speaking as a writer, that would be like writing one paragraph at a time and noodling it until I was satisfied with it (which is something that I sometimes *do* do) but never reading the entire essay in one sitting to make sure that that paragraph fits with the flow and pace of the essay as a whole.

Anyway. If Malick himself doesn't find his own film interesting, except in fits and starts, then I certainly can't blame anyone else for not finding it all that interesting, at least when taken as a whole.

Persiflage wrote:

: You just have to be trying to find something of worth in the midst of a very short attention span, impatient, consumerist culture.

Just for the record, I don't think it benefits anyone to present this film as some sort of litmus test, whereby those who don't like it have somehow aligned themselves with a very short attention span, impatient, consumerist culture. Many people who like slow-moving films have found this film wanting, too.

: Oh, and by "Spielberg's updated John Wayne film" are you by any chance referring to True Grit?

I believe vjmorton was referring to Saving Private Ryan, which, through an accident of timing, was frequently compared and contrasted with The Thin Red Line throughout the 1998-1999 awards season. (John Wayne made a lot of Westerns, yes, but he also made a lot of World War II movies, including The Longest Day -- which, like Saving Private Ryan, depicted the storming of the beaches in Normandy on D-Day.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Just had a thought: Isn't it kind of telling that even Malick HIMSELF can't be bothered to sit through this film?

Personally, I don't think an artist's post-production desire (or lack of) to watch, read, listen to, or otherwise experience work they've finished says anything at all about the work.

Actors frequently confess to avoiding watching themselves in their movies.

There are myriad reasons why they may want to avoid their own stuff.

For some artists, a work is a heavy, emotional, taxing time of working through their own issues, questions, and troubles. Their job was to make something. They're under no obligation to spend time with it after the fact; and if they do, I think they'd be among the audience members least likely to have a fair opinion of it.

My opinion, my experience, anyway.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Overstreet wrote:

: Personally, I don't think an artist's post-production desire (or lack of) to watch, read, listen to, or otherwise experience work they've finished says anything at all about the work.

The work WASN'T finished. That's kind of the point.

(It's basic film vocabulary, but just to be clear: "production" refers to the period when cameras are rolling on a film; "post-production" refers to the period when the footage is being edited, voice-overs recorded, music scored, etc., etc. Given how Malick is notorious for re-shaping his films in post-production, the word "finished" obviously does not apply here, not at this stage in their creation.)

: Actors frequently confess to avoiding watching themselves in their movies.

Yeah, but how many of these actors are also DIRECTING the movies in question?

: My opinion, my experience, anyway.

Given how often you write about the edits you do on your books, I don't think you would say you had "finished" the books simply because you sent the first drafts in to your editors. Same thing here. Malick hasn't "finished" any of his films simply because the cameras stopped rolling and his team of editors had started working on them.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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My point was this: A work of art is a thing and a way. The artist is often primarily concerned with the way, the process, the search and the record of it... and when they've come to the end of that journey (whatever the state of the work in question), they may have very good reasons for going on to other things and not feeling interested in revisiting it. The thing that remains, and the audience's responses to it, are a very different matter.

And yes, I know what post-production means as a filmmaking term. :azzangel: I was using it creatively as a general, multi-disciplinary term for what happens after an artist, in any medium, has done his work.

So Malick has a different way of working than others. I don't care. I am grateful for the finished work, whatever the process.

Yes, in my own work, I pay close attention to every phase of the editing process because I was badly burned on a project when a freelancer went out of her way to fracture and spoil sentences and quotes throughout the book, and the "copyedited" version introduced hundreds of new errors throughout the manuscript. But I wouldn't compare that to Malick's work, which I know very little about, and which he may see as a much more collaborative venture than my approach to writing a novel.

Whatever the artist's approach to collaboration... whatever the artist thinks about revisiting their own work... that's not going to change my assessment of the finished work itself.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I was writing forcefully because I was reacting against the idea that, because regular old army enlisted men aren't educated in philosophy, it was unbelievable in the film for them to be asking the questions that they were asking in the film.

It's a bit unbelievable for them to be asking the questions as they are phrased. Malick has an affection for purple prose.

I'll have to dig up the quote, but Robert Leckie addressed this at some point in "Strong Men Armed", talking about the how the lush, prehistoric beauty of Guadalcanal evoked these unusual emotions in many of the men who were there. Again, I find the philosophical wrestling in TTRL voicovers to be one of the least problematic parts of the film; at least from a historical perspective.

Just had a thought: Isn't it kind of telling that even Malick HIMSELF can't be bothered to sit through this film? Reportedly, he sat through an entire rough cut of this film at one point in post-production because the crew forced him to. But apart from that, he has reportedly never focused on more than one sequence at a time. Sorry, but, speaking as a writer, that would be like writing one paragraph at a time and noodling it until I was satisfied with it (which is something that I sometimes *do* do) but never reading the entire essay in one sitting to make sure that that paragraph fits with the flow and pace of the essay as a whole.

There are quite a few famous artists who refuse to listen, watch or read their own work... Bob Dylan is the first example that pops into my mind, but as Jeff said I dont think this is that unusual in film.

But to be fair, it is common knowledge that Malick had numerous problems with this film, and there are accounts that the featured protagonist in the shooting script was Brody's Fife and that the version that was released was not exactly Plan A. So there is some evidence of dissatisfaction on his part, which could explain his refusal to watch the film.

Whatever the artist's approach to collaboration... whatever the artist thinks about revisiting their own work... that's not going to change my assessment of the finished work itself.

Right And whether Malick enjoys it or not, at this point it is now my favorite of all his films.

I'm working my way thru the HBO Pacific series on DVD, and it's interesting to note the similarities and differences with TTRL in the the Guadalcanal episodes. As well-made as the Spielberg/Hanks effort is, TTRL evokes stronger emotions with me while using much fewer brush strokes.

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I'll have to dig up the quote, but Robert Leckie addressed this at some point in "Strong Men Armed", talking about the how the lush, prehistoric beauty of Guadalcanal evoked these unusual emotions in many of the men who were there.

It's not the emotions or ideas I find problematic. Just the expression of those emotions and ideas.

There are quite a few famous artists who refuse to listen, watch or read their own work... Bob Dylan is the first example that pops into my mind, but as Jeff said I dont think this is that unusual in film.

Many filmmakers tend to not want to revisit their work and/or don't enjoy sitting through it, but for a filmmaker to never have sat down and watched the entire film and considered how all the pieces come together in a whole? That's pretty unusual.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Overstreet wrote:

: My point was this: A work of art is a thing and a way.

Right. And the particular "way" that Malick makes his films -- or made this one, at any rate -- suggests certain ways of responding to the work of art in question. In particular, it suggests certain ways of accepting the critiques of those who say the film is a tough, disjointed slog to sit through in one sitting. Apparently Malick agrees, even though he made the film in the pre-DVD era, i.e. in the era when people were expected to watch films in one sitting and didn't have the freedom to hop around from scene to scene at will.

: And yes, I know what post-production means as a filmmaking term. I was using it creatively as a general, multi-disciplinary term for what happens after an artist (in any medium) has done his work.

So, in your response to me and my use of the term, you used the word in a way that you knew I did not intend? That's ... problematic.

: I am grateful for the finished work, whatever the process.

And that is certainly your right.

: But I wouldn't compare that to Malick's work, which I know very little about, and which he may see as a much more collaborative venture than my approach to writing a novel.

Point taken about the fact that film is a collaborative venture. But ideally, it shouldn't just be a collaboration between PEOPLE; it should be a collaboration between SCENES, too. :)

: whatever the artist thinks about revisiting their own work...

Just so we don't lose the original point: My argument had NOTHING to do with "revisiting" the work, only with how Malick MADE the work in the first place.

Greg P wrote:

: There are quite a few famous artists who refuse to listen, watch or read their own work...

Yes, Woody Allen says he never goes back and watches his old films (which might explain why he repeats himself so often!). He also made a movie about a director who tries to make a film even though he has just gone blind. He meant it as a comedy, of course: the whole POINT of being a visual artist is that you look at what you're making, at least while you're making it.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I'd never heard that story about Malick assembling sequences without ever watching the entire, finished film. Whether it's true or not, I don't know (I have my doubts), but even that wouldn't account for his creative abuses of continuity editing within sequences. I especially love the here-again-gone-again snow in Days of Heaven. For the record, I like rule-breakers and don't put any specific limitations on what a director is and isn't allowed to do in a film, so long as I can come up with a convincing justification for those creative decisions. Malick's montage is anti-classical enough that it needs justifying, I think, and to me it's not sufficiently compelling on its own terms (compared to many "pure" avant-garde directors, at least), which is why I've grown a bit bored with him. My one beef with many Malick fans is that their justifications tend to be very general odes to transcendence and natural beauty and "if you don't see that beauty, it's your own blindness that's the problem." I see the beauty, I'm moved momentarily by it, and then I get bored with the filmmaking.

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I'd never heard that story about Malick assembling sequences without ever watching the entire, finished film. Whether it's true or not, I don't know (I have my doubts) ...

It's certainly not made by people out to "get" Malick or in forums where he can't respond or exercise a certain amount of control -- http://www.slate.com/id/2269262/

Unless and until he says "that's a load of crap," I'm prepared to take what is reported in the Slate article, a glowing review of the DVD release that cites extras on the disc, as true.

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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If I could interject, in light of the ongoing discussion about whether or not Malick can sit through this film: Did he cooperate with the Criterion DVD? Doesn't Criterion usually work closely with directors to get their approval on transfers, at the least, even if those filmmakers aren't intersted in audio commentaries, etc.? Or did Criterion create this DVD without any input whatever from Malick?

EDIT: Ah, I see that Malick approved the transfer, which makes me think he must have sat through the entire thing before approving it. But the cinematographer also approved the transfer, so maybe Malick entrusted that job to Toll.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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