It's the late 1950s. Mid-twenty-something Kit is a restless and unfocused young man with a James Dean vibe and swagger which he has heard mentioned about him more than once. Fifteen year old Holly has a somewhat cold relationship with her sign painter father, if only because she is the primary reminder of his wife, who died of pneumonia when Holly was a child. The two meet when Holly and her father move from Texas to the small town where Kit lives, Fort Dupree, South Dakota. They slowly fall in love, something about which she cannot tell her father because of their age difference and Kit coming from the wrong side of the tracks. When he tries to take Holly away with him, Kit, on an impulse, shoots her father dead. After letting the initial emotions of the situation settle down, Holly decides voluntarily to go with Kit, they trying to make it look like they committed suicide in a house fire. But they soon learn that their plan did not work, there being a bounty on their heads. As such,... Written by
Writer-producer-director Terrence Malick has said of raising the finance for this picture: "I developed a kind of sales kit with slides and videotapes of actors, all with a view to presenting investors with something that would look ready to shoot. To my surprise, they didn't pay too much attention to it. They invested on faith". See more »
The piano keyboard and music sheets are soaked in gasoline, but they're still intact when the fire is shown. See more »
[voice over narration]
My Mother dies of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My Father kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral he gave it to the yard man. He tried to act cheerful but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house. Then one day hoping to begin a new life away from the scene of all these memories he moved us from Texas to Port Dupree, South Dakota.
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Is it really possible that this luminous masterpiece is a first feature film? It is as though Mozart had started his career in composition with one of his mature symphonies. What is totally special about 'Badlands' is the visual control that Terrence Malick applies to the story, and his use of fabulous music to embed his amazing images in our mind. The 'Bonnie & Clyde'-ish story could have been turgid, but Malick turns it into a mythic journey.
At the heart of Malick's method is the fabulous interior monologue by Holly explaining and ironically commenting on the story. "Kit made me take my schoolbooks so I wouldn't fall behind with my studies...". This has been characteristic of each of Malick's films - Linda in 'Days of Heaven' and Witt in 'The Thin Red Line' have somewhat similar monologues - and 'New World' is monumentalised by the haunting monologue/montage with which it ends. Here it totally sucks the viewer into the story and makes the montages that it accompanies into, just about, the high-point of seventies cinema.
Alongside this, Malick uses some of the most haunting music in existence. Whether it is Carl Orff or Nat King Cole, Malick transports us with fabulous romantic imagery that perfectly balances it.
I started on this comment determined not to use the word 'poetry', but I just can't avoid it. With nearly all filmmakers, including very great ones, the style that they present is very much prose - great prose, perhaps, but firmly rooted on the ground. With Malick, we are taken, emotionally, to the stars by the lyric magnificence of the totality of his vision.
It is said that Welles learned cinema by watching John Ford's 'Stagecoach' before embarking on 'Citizen Kane'. Every young filmmaker should watch this amazing masterpiece again and again and again and inform their work with Malick's matchless sense of true cinema.
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