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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.
It's really a shame that Terrence Malick didn't have the brilliant
career he deserved at Hollywood. Shot with a nearly shoestring budget,
"Badlands" remains one of the most dazzling debut movies of all time.
Malick's legend based on his (long) absence has helped it to become a
cult-movie. Inspired by a tragic short news item which took place in
1959 (a young couple who decides to commit a series of free murders to
leave a mark in history), the odds are that Malick's first
feature-length movie inspired Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino for
their dangerous and irresponsible "Natural Born Killers" (1994).
Concerning Tarantino, I read an interview about him in which he
expressed his admiration of Malick's work. It shows that the author of
"Pulp Fiction" (1994) has a great esteem for this talented and
mysterious film-maker. At the same time, we can also note down that
Malick's work inspired Bruce "the Boss" Springsteen two songs:
"Badlands" on his "darkness on the edge of town" album (1978) and
"nebraska" on the eponymous LP(1982).
An American journalist had written that "Badlands" was the best mastered movie in the history of cinema since "Citizen Kane" (1941) by Orson Welles. One can judge this affirmation as exaggerated but it is nevertheless indisputable that Malick's opus strikes on numerous aspects: an assertive and opaque story, a fluid making, a relevant screenplay, an original photography which gives to the landscapes an image of desolation and lost paradise perturbed by a free violence. The work is also strongly steeped in a certain poetry.
Concerning the two main characters, a French critic had written that it was difficult to feel liking for these two irresponsible. I think that this critic badly analyzed the film. Terrence Malick doesn't try to make them likable to us. He describes them without kindness and condescension. They haven't got an imposing personality and live only through an intermediary myth. It is particularly obvious for the young man (Martin Sheen) who is obsessed with James Dean. One can also say that Sissi Spacek's voice-over which tells this dramatic story is of an amazing neutrality. Then, unlike many criminal lovers, Sheen and Spacek will live at the heart of this violence and the latter won't bring them together or take them away.
With "Badlands", Malick was judicious for the choice of the actors. In a way, his first movie enabled to put Sheen and Spacek on the map and it also launched their respective careers. Then, what happened to Terrence Malick after this sensational debut movie? A second movie, "Days of Heaven" (1978) starring Richard Gere as successful as "Badlands". After that, for twenty years, nothing. However, in 1998, Malick made a rather successful come-back with "the Thin Red Line" (1998). According to the latest news, he would currently shoot a movie about the first years of America's colonization in the beginning of the seventeenth century. If my memory serves me well, the movie will be released next year. Let's hope so...
Like this?try these....
"gun crazy" ,Joseph H.Lewis ,1950
"you only live once" Fritz Lang,1936
"Bonnie and Clyde" Arthur Penn,1967
Kit is a garbage man, Holly just a teenager living with her father. Kit
and Holly get together and Holly's father disapproves. Kit kills
Holly's father and together they go on the lam and a few others get
killed in the proceedings.
This 1973 landmark film was the directorial debut of one Terrence Malick. It's been described by many as one of the most mature debuts in film history. The numbness of Sheen's and Spacek's characters is haunting and makes a very strong point and it's very hard to swallow. Spacek's voice-over, which tells how she experiences life with Kit, is disturbing and yet, poetically beautiful. The sheer innocence of her character, her bright-eyed view of the world, her acceptance of Kit's explanations make a stronger point in the examination of two completely alienated individuals than any other movie I can think of.
Martin Sheen has never been better than here. His Kit, obsessed with James Dean apparently, is one of cinema's coldest villains. His utter detachment in all the proceedings is a wonder to behold. He's completely numb and that's more haunting than any outburst of rage. He's a flawed product of society. He doesn't feel evil, he just doesn't feel anything. Sissy Spacek is also wonderful in her role, giving a very memorable performance as Holly.
Terence Malick's direction is superb. The cinematography by Tak Fujimoto is beautiful, every frame simply looks stunning and he captures the era wonderfully. It's hard to believe this film is over 30 years old. The music is also very good, with a catchy melody which seems to go well the innocence portrayed in Spacek's character. This almost feels like a children's tune.
This film is considered to be loosely based on the real life killing spree committed by Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. Starkweather was executed and up until his last day alive, he said that Caril was just an observer but finally said she was as guilty of the killings as he, even initiating some herself.
Badlands however says in the end credits that the story is fictional.
One of the best films of the 1970's.
Surely one of the most brilliant films ever made. The haunting music and
cinematography would almost suffice by itself. The hero is little more than
a child: the heroine his willing accomplice, and we are made to question
what is good and what is evil by seeing the world through the eyes of
children. From the moment when the girl's father shoots her dog to punish
her, we lose any loyalty to traditional values or to the rights of parents
over their children. By the end, it's obvious to us that society doesn't
value the lives of those who were killed. It anticipates Natural Born
Killers, but perhaps says more and uses a tighter structure.
Brilliantly acted and directed, with many layers to it. A film to watch again and again.
Made in the early 1970s, this was more of classic type crime story than
a modern-day one in that the violence wasn't overdone and it was a
slower-paced story than what you would see if re-made today.
That slower pace makes for a better study of the two main characters, who were based on the real-life serial-killing duo of the 1950s: Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend.
Martin Sheen's Starkweather-type character "Kit Carruthers" is amazingly low- key for a killer and Sissy Spacek, playing his girl, "Holly," shows some really strange reactions (she hardly reacts after Sheen shoots her father) while providing fascinating narration. In fact, the more I watch this film, the more Spacek's narration is the highlight for me. It's great stuff.
Being a Terrence Malick-directed film, you know you are going to get some nice photography. He really loves closeups of nature. Another plus is the absence of profanity. There is very little of it.
In January, 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather and
fourteen-year-old Caril Ann Fugate went on a murder spree in Nebraska
and Wyoming. Eleven innocent people died. Most, though not all, of the
killings were random. Starkweather and Fugate's story "inspired"
several films, including this one.
In "Badlands", the pair's names were changed to Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) and Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek), and their ages were altered slightly. From what I have read, Starkweather and Fugate were emotionally detached and casual about the killings, especially Charles, once the initial murders had occurred. Both Sheen and Spacek do a good job of mimicking this nonchalant attitude. At various points throughout the film, Holly narrates the story in an emotionless, monotone voice. It's like she's reading a diary of what happened as we, the viewers, watch movie footage of the events.
The film's title is appropriate, given that the characters' inner lives must surely have been wastelands, and given that the film's plot takes place mostly outdoors, on the lonesome High Plains, with its brooding and "stark" landscape.
The film's color cinematography conveys a mood of desolation, especially in those scenes that contain little more than the horizon, expansive blue sky, treeless plains, and a couple of lonely desperados. At one point, the color morphs into sepia-tinted images of small town America, as the whole country, in fear, takes up arms against the fugitives, a photographic change that renders an almost documentary tone to the film.
From time to time, classical background music accompanies the senseless violence, a cinematic contrast so "stark" as to make the film surreal. And, of course, the sequence toward the end where Kit and Holly, with car radio on, dance in the headlights as Nat King Cole sings "A Blossom Fell", is truly mournful and haunting.
"Badlands" is incredibly understated and low-key, as detached as the characters portrayed. Director Terrence Malick conveys a simple, uninvolved story, packaged in a film that makes no effort to communicate either symbolism or thematic depth. Nor does the film render judgments about the characters or events. It's an approach that probably wouldn't work today. But it is effective, and through the years the film has gradually become more respected as an excellent character study of 1950's teen rebels without a cause.
The serial killer genre is the most overdone in modern cinema, but director Terrence Mallick took a real life story to make his powerful debut, 'Badlands'. He even toned it down, his interest being not in presenting a picture of pure (and wholly artificial) evil but rather in portraying a wholly human story. Murder is depicted here in all its banality - people shot (off-screen) through locked doors, by a young man acting for wholly normal motives but without the customary restraints on behaviour that we term morals. The result is a haunting, though occasionally pretentious, study of individuals drifting beyond the bounds of civilisation, their physical location (America's still-wild west) symbolically matching their mental isolation. Sissy Spacek is particularly good as the ordinary girl just along for the ride. A fine film, 'Badlands' is also genuinely disturbing, in a way that Hannibal Lector could only dream of.
BADLANDS is an intelligent little film. We're given characters and situations and left to make our own conclusions. Based on an actual young couple who went on a killing spree across the southwest in the late 1950s, the story has two young people doing their own thing with precious little in the way of ethics to guide them. It's interesting to note that both these kids substitute their own fantasies for any sense of order or responsibility that society may have to offer. The turning point comes when Kit and Holly decide to shuck their semblances of normal life for whatever their fantasies provide which, unfortunately, can't sustain them. Sheen's Kit is full of swagger and bravado; it's almost easy for someone to see him committing robberies and serial murders. Spacek's Holly is more intriguing: a soft, vanilla, invisible girl from a respectable, emotionally detached home, she seemingly possesses little in the way of what one would associate with a violent criminal. Yet, she accompanies Kit, with nothing in the way of reservations or regret. The chance to fulfill her vapid, movie magazine fantasies, if only by hiding out in the woods and applying makeup, seem infinitely more palatable than her dull existence twirling batons in her yard(it's interesting to note that one of the few things she takes away from her home is a highly romanticized, Maxfield Parrish print). These misguided illusions, along with her adolescent love for Kit, keep her going to the end. A worthwhile exploration of the bland, vacant American sensibility that values appearances or passive, benign behavior over real ethics and personal morality. And definitely more relevant as the years have passed.
Badlands, based on the relationship between Charles Starkweather and
Caril Fugate (and later an inspiration for Tarantino's True Romance and
NBK), never has a moment where something un-realistic curries.
Writer/producer/director Terence Malick leads his film along with a
true emphasis on both the psychological nature of Kit (Martin Sheen)
and Holly (Sissy Spacek), and with the un-canny knack for a relaxing
style in his camera. At best, Badlands is one of the successful homages
to European cinema of the 1970's, something that will last a long time
due to its pairing of absorbing art-house and (perhaps) mainstream
sensibilities. At worst, a viewer could feel bored with Malick's intent
on running with his poetic ideas as a director. If there was any
pretentiousness at all, it went over my head; this is a film that draws
you into its tragic nature.
Sheen and Spacek are totally believable as a couple on the run, as Kit continually has a trigger-happy attitude to people after he shoots Holly's father. While Spacek holds the heart of the picture steady, I'd have to say that Sheen's Kit is one of his best performances. He comes off in the perfect sense- you wouldn't think for a second that Kit could be a killer, that is until he pulls out his pistol. It works just as well that Holly is the narrator, so that the viewer can understand where Kit's coming from, and where he's going. If there is any distance between his character and the audience, there's still a strong, emotional connection through Spacek, and their bond as a loving, if dangerous, couple.
Overall, Badlands is extraordinary in a way that doesn't cram its atmospheric from start to finish on the audience, and it looks at young people in love, however in such twisted circumstances, in an honest way in how escalatory events create a disillusioned feeling in youth. That it's made on such a low budget gives it more merit. Kudos should go to the musical score by James Taylor, Gunild Keetman and George Tipton, too; it's one of the best debuts of the 70's. A+
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Badlands" is a movie that is so flat it's infuriating. It is also
anticlimactic and an ultimate failure.
Innocent teen Holly (Sissy Spacek) meets troubled loner Kit (Martin Sheen) and their love affair turns into a killing spree and a life on the lam. And that's all. Throughout all the events that unfold in this story- some tragic, some funny, some frightening, and some heartbreaking- neither character expresses any strong emotion or any discernible personality. We know the characters LESS at the end of the film than we did at the beginning, and that is just as unsatisfying as it sounds.
Was Kit destined to become a killer? Were there signs we should have seen? Was there something in his past that drove him to this? Does he enjoy these killings? Or is he riddled with guilt and remorse? Is he conflicted or confused, demented or brilliant? Director Terrence Malick never answers these questions. So why bother telling the story?
Holly leaves us with the same void: Is she secretly proud of her crazed, violent protector? Is she mentally unstable herself for getting involved in this situation- and allowing it to continue? What's wrong with her? What's going on here?!? She spends the movie in a dreamlike state with no reaction to the events around her. Even Kit's best friend- who gets shot in the belly for trying to escape- has no reaction to his own impending death... he sits quietly on his bed reading old postcards and bleeding to death. Restraining actors to this degree is a crime against the craft.
The closest we get to any real insight is the contrived, intentionally-stilted voice-over from Sissy Spacek, which ultimately reveals nothing. Our narrator's voice is detached, disassociated, and numb, even with the advance knowledge of all that has happened, and how. To tease the audience in this way is a defiant prank, and not very funny.
What could have been a brilliant movie is ruined by Malick's refusal to reveal ANY motivation for any of his characters. Heck, we don't even understand why Holly's Father was so protective of her in the first place! A character study like this needs emotional highs and lows, conflict, confrontation... and after the first hour of watching Holly & Kit drift through this nightmare looking like they're stoned on painkillers the novelty begins to wear thin.
I love Sheen & Spacek, and I very much wanted to like this movie, but it has been expertly crafted to communicate nothing. "Badlands" simply exists, and if this was the stunt Malick was hoping to achieve, his reward is that the film leaves no lasting impression.
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