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I can understand why Malick didn't make another movie after he made
Days of Heaven. The film was panned by the majority of the critics who
could only find the cinematography worthy of praise. However, Malick
was hugely misunderstood by these dumb critics.
They complain that the film is ponderously slow. This was the intention. Malick used pause to convey that the characters think. Too many actors rattle off their lines without letting their characters think of them. It also conveys the slow pace of their lives.
Critics complain that the characters are too remote - one feels removed from them and can't get involved. Hello! It is narrated by a 13 yr old and is essentially her view of the events that transpired. Naturally she does not grasp most of the more adult moments between them and thus is herself removed from being fully involved in Bill and Abby's relationship and that is what has to come across.
Then Malick, in a moment of genius, allied the four main characters to the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire & Water. Bill is Fire - he is seen at first in front of the furnaces of a foundry where he works. We can see his temper is volatile. Abby is water - in the very first shot she is scavenging(?) by a stream and she is seen against the backdrop of the river. Linda is Earth - In her narration she says that she is close to the "Oith". The Farmer is Air - constantly tinkering with his weather vane, and his fields of wheat are often seen waving in the wind.
All in all a severely mies-judged film and the critics owe Malick a huge apology. The work is pure genius!
If any movie could be called filmed poetry, this would be it. From its first opening shot to its last frame, there is such lyricism and emotion and beauty that it almost leaves you speechless. I have not seen this movie in years, but it still affects me and I want to write about it. There is a pervading sadness to the movie, like a memory of something wonderful that could have been, that should have been, that almost was, and is all the more tragic because it was in your hands but slipped through your fingers. This is not a movie for everyone, but if you believe that film can be one of the highest forms of art, this is the film to see.
This is truly a unique movie: in a class by itself. I had that opinion
the first time I saw it on VHS and still feel the same way years later.
It's been at the top of my list of favorite movies since I began
compiling a list over a decade ago.
It's very dream-like, surreal, a film I never get tired of watching and I've watched this film more than any other in my large collection. If I had to pin it down to two reasons why, it would be the video and the audio.
The cinematography alone makes this movie worth watching repeatedly. Now that we all have access to a widescreen DVD version of this, the scenes are even more breathtaking. (I never had the pleasure of seeing this in a movie theater.)
The same superlatives can be used when discussing the soundtrack, a haunting music score that gets better and better each time one views this film. In fact, lately it's the music more than anything else I miss when I go periods without viewing this film.
The story is a simple one and is explained by others here. No need to repeat it. I find the narration to be unique, an unusual insight into the characters of the film and the thoughts of the little girl (Linda Manz), who does the narrating. The characters that continually fascinate me are Brooke Adams, as the lead female, and Robert J. Wilke, as the farm foreman. I guess it's their faces that intrigue me. Adams' down-turned mouth and sad look and Wilke's wrinklies catch my attention every time.
The story is interesting, generally low-key but with a few quick violent scenes that are quite memorable. More than that, one gets an incredible feel for the land and for the migrant workers of that time period. Another nice aspect of this film is the very small amount of profanity. Kids probably would be bored with this film but at least I wouldn't be afraid to show it to them.
But as many pluses as the story boasts, that haunting music and those incredible visuals are what drive me back for more. Great, great stuff.
Oh, I better come out and say it: I love Terrence Malick. I think he's one
of the few filmmakers who has completely and utterly captured filmic form.
"The Thin Red Line" was, to me, an astonishing experience; beautiful,
horrific and the best movie of the 90s. "Badlands" is the best
lovers-on-the-lam movie I've ever seen (it certainly makes "True Romance"
look like a gimmicky fraud of a movie). Malick somehow manages to make
everything seem painfully beautiful: his landscape, his actors, his
dialogue. There's something always elegiac about his movies.
There's a picture of James Dean I saw from his youth -- a baseball team photo -- and the caption said something about how it captured his face, and in it, wisdom and sadness far beyond his years. That's what Malick does in his films and particularly in this film.
He must have been a fan of James Dean (probably one of the reasons he chose to make "Badlands," as a sort of homage), but not in the sense that coolness comes from a perfectly combed coiffure, a red leather jacket (which it wasn't -- it was a windbreaker) and a dark brood. There's a similar story here to that of "Giant," set on a farm with that remarkable house, two men and one girl. Only "Giant" didn't have a philosophizing and very strange little girl. It was also an overblown soap opera and while this film is, I guess, a melodrama, it certainly isn't melodramatic.
If Malick is anyone in the film, he's Sam Shapard; watching his love through a lens. Malick uses Manz as a sort of channel. If this is indeed some fashion of his own story, Malick tells us through her, with he visualized by Shepard, which is a somewhat brilliant approach. Manz is strangely philosophical; at once blunt and abstract. The story is obviously centered around her -- I don't see why this wouldn't be obvious -- but she's pushed into the background, commenting on the characters and informing us like God from above.
As always with Malick, his film is mesmerizing and hypnotic. I was surprised that the film was only a little over an hour-and-a-half. The great Ennio Morricone created a wonderful score for this film that seems to forebode impending doom. Unlike his more famous spaghetti western scores, it's never overly-flamboyant. And the cinematography, listed as belonging to Nestor Almendros, but well-known to be at least substantially contributed to by Haskell Wexler, is so much like an oil painting that it's just about liquid film. I'd be willing to pay a lot of money to see this one on the big screen.
It might seem obvious to state that this film is a transition between "Badlands" and "The Thin Red Line," after all it was the middle film. But this film has moments, especially in the finale, that are surprisingly close to that of "Badlands" and this is the film where Malick fully mastered his approach of lush, visual poetry told at a languid pace that never seems boring, since you're fully within the film;s grasp.
Pauline Kael said in her review that "the film is an empty Christmas tree: you can hang all your dumb metaphors on it." And Charles Taylor, always following Kael's lead (even from beyond the grave), said of Malick's two 1970s films, "Next to the work of Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma and Mazursky from that period, they're pallid jokes."
What never fails to get me furious is when someone viciously attacks a director, like Malick, for being self-indulgent. Of course it's self-indulgent, he's telling a story that means something to him and trying to share what he feels with us. Malick certainly isn't trying to alienate people, and if you are alienated by his films, well, don't watch them. Malick is a filmmaker like Kubrick, but more fluid and much less abrasive. I mean, if you're going to aggressively attack a filmmaker, aggressively attack someone who is aggressive on his side. Directors like Malick use abstractions to engage their audiences more fully than most. By leaving things -- often feelings -- open to interpretation, the film becomes more intimate.
Certainly one of the most enduring films from the 70s, this is a masterwork.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In merely an hour and a half, Terrence Malick does more with Days of
Heaven than most directors could do in a lifetime. In this wonderful
film, we see all seven deadly sins play out against one of the most
incredible backdrops ever put on camera. Virtually every shot could be
framed and hung on your wall as a fine piece of art. Malick even shows
us he knows how to film a pheasant hunt!
The story, though at times swallowed up by the cinematography, is also pretty compelling. Richard Gere is the main focus. He plays a down-on-his-luck laborer from the dirty world of pre-WW1 industrialized Chicago. After a dispute with a foreman, which we see but don't really hear, Gere kills the man and is forced to flee the area. Along with him are his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and his kid sister (Linda Manz). The three of them hop on a train, and before you know it, they all have a jobs harvesting wheat on a seemingly boundless Texas farm. The work is difficult to be sure, but once the owner of the farm (Sam Shephard) notices Adams, things take an unexpected turn. All along, Gere has told everyone that Adams is his sister rather than his girlfriend. Shephard likes Adams enough to let the three of them stay on after the harvest is done. Gere overhears the Farmer talking to a doctor in which it is apparently revealed that he has only a year to live. Gere urges Adams to marry the farmer so hopefully the three of them will get his money after he quickly passes. Adams agrees, setting the table for nothing but tragedy and betrayal.
The story is narrated by Linda Manz who plays Gere's kid sister. In her words and in her voice we hear clear evidence of just what kind of difficult lives the three of them have lived, and what a wonderful opportunity their new situation seems at first to provide. Her character is one of the most authentic that this critic has seen in a film in many years. She even has an odd beauty about her, if the camera catches her in the proper light. Notice one scene in particular when she is watching a friend jump a train and the sun is setting behind her.
Gere, Adams, and Shephard are also as good as ever. It would be so easy for their performances to get lost within the aesthetic beauty of this film, yet they stand out in well-defined characters. I don't recall us ever being told Shephard's name in the film. He's only referred to as "the farmer". Is he really dying? We can never be quite sure. Does Adams really love Gere or Shephard? Maybe. Maybe not. There is much left to the imagination about each of these characters.
Towards the end, all hell breaks loose, as you might expect. Secrets are found out, fortunes are lost, and lives are taken. The last fifteen minutes look like something out of the book of revelations, as they were most likely intended to. And for some of the characters, new lives are forged, but they are another story. And it's a story we can only imagine. Days of Heaven is a triumph on all levels. It is simply unforgettable. Certainly one of the best films this critic has seen in a long, long time.
10 of 10 stars.
"Days of Heaven" is a beautiful film with fantastic panoramic cinematography. It's hard to say what it is about this film that captivated me from the start. I didn't expect to enjoy it when I read about the plot. Farm workers? How could that be interesting... But oh, the haunting, heavenly silence of the fields undulating in the wind, a silence not sundered by any garish music. Everything about this film is tangible, real, alive. The dialogue is sparse, believable, the bond between Bill and Abby is one of quiet passion that needs no dramatic proclamations to fuel it. And Sam Shepard's farmer is touching. I don't use that word very often, but I'll venture it here. I have watched this film now several times, and it is a delight each time when the farmer first sees Abby. This perhaps the strongest and most believable love triangle ever put to film, and in my opinion, the most compelling.
Days of Heaven (1978) ****
"Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you."
This line delivered by Linda Manz in Terrence Malick's gorgeous masterpiece, 'Days of Heaven,' sums up everything you need to know about life on earth. Much of Malick's themes have been devoted to man versus nature, and the idea of perfection is not outside that realm - imperfection is the nature of mankind.
Richard Gere, in his greatest performance, plays Bill, a hot headed, lower class worker, who in a moment of mistake accidentally kills his boss in a Chicago factory. We see that the boss is hassling Bill, but we never know why, we just see faces but no distinguishable voices over the roar of the factory. Bill, his sister (Manz) and his girlfriend Abby, played by Brooke Adams, take off for the panhandle, hitching a ride on a train. Bill and Abby tell everyone that they are all brothers and sisters, because as you know, "people talk." They find work on a farm owned by the rich farmer, played by Sam Shepard. Many other films would make the farmer the bad guy, giving him trade mark heel characteristics, but Shepard's farmer, who we learn is dying, is soulful, and yearning for love. He see's Abby, and is interested, and eventually will ask her to stay - after Bill hears the doctor tell him he has about a year to live. They decide to stay, and after some persuasion from Bill, Abby will marry the dying farmer so that they can be heir to his fortune. Suspicions arise, and hearts and lives are broken, and the Days of Heaven will come to a halting end.
The cinematography is some of the most breathtaking ever captured on film. 'Days of Heaven' could even considered a masterpiece for its aesthetic beauty alone, if the story were not so terrific. Everything about the film is magnificent. Ennio Morricone's score is haunting and beautiful. You will remember it forever, along with Linda Manz' unforgettable narration, likely one of the greatest voice overs in film history. Many have criticized Malick's distancing techniques and muted emotions. We are always kept at arms length away. But these people don't realize that the story is a memory, a memory from the real main character - Linda. Also, in a method that Robert Bresson used, by distancing us emotionally, it leaves us to add our own emotions and imaginations in the story, heightening the power of the film, as long as you are willing not to be spoon-fed what to think.
Terrence Malick is a filmmaker who came out of nowhere with his talents already fulfilled, and he has not stopped since. His films are filled with such heartbreaking beauty and symbolism, and he is one of the few living filmmakers who truly are creating art, rather than just entertainment. He had one of the greatest debuts ever, in the mesmerizing and haunting 'Badlands,' the deepest and most philosophical 'The Thin Red Line,' which is likely the greatest contemporary war film (as suggested by the late Gene Siskel)and the stunningly beautiful 'The New World.' His films are deep and meaningful, and to get into the underlying symbolism and themes of them here would be pointless, and better saved for a long essay.
Days of Heaven is one of the greatest, and most beautiful films ever made. Cinema is at a low point recently, but as long as Terrence Malick is still making films, we still have some heavenly art to look forward to.
PS - Hopefully someone like Criterion will create a new DVD, as the current one has some soundtrack problems. Imagine seeing it restored, visually and audibly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have seen this movie twice, once a few years ago in college, and
again this past weekend. Although I absolutely despised it the first
time, I decided to give it another chance. Terrence Malick is clearly a
well-respected director, and it seems that the IMDb viewers, at least,
think very highly of the film. But, unfortunately, it seems my tastes
haven't changed at all.
Where to start? For one thing, Linda Manz's narration is horrific. Her voice is so irritating with that horrendous New York accent (please don't try and convince me that Chicagoans talk that way - they don't). She herself admitted to just sitting down and talking about random things, which does not make her a talented actress. She's not even acting! I came on IMDb expecting to see her ripped apart, since her performance is just so utterly laughable, but people actually seemed to like it! She's simply unappealing in every way - I kept hoping Malick would just kill her off.
The other actors were fine, but certainly nothing special. Adams was probably the strongest in the cast, but she also had the only decent part. Except the old guy - he was pretty good.
Speaking of acting, how could Shepard's character be so ridiculously stupid?? He bought the "brother and sister" act because...uh, why would he buy that? Bill and Abby took every single opportunity to be touchy-feely, as though they didn't realize that their lives depended on acting in a very platonic way. It was just completely unbelievable. And finally, after a considerable amount of time, the Farmer suddenly realizes that, "Oh my god, they're together!" Then he goes after Bill with a gun, but instead seems to trip into Bill's hand and ends up with a mortal stab wound.
Speaking of which, the fate of the characters was similarly stupid (and, dare I say, lazy). Of course Bill has to die - could it be more boring than getting shot in a pond by a pack of cops? Abby goes on with her happy life, getting on a train and feeling really content about the way things worked out. And the irksome narrator randomly finds her deadbeat friend and they wander off into the sunset. But it's okay, because Malick never gave me any reason to care about the characters anyway.
As for the plot, this film drags along endlessly with no real plot twists or development. I can't believe it's only 94 minutes long - I could have sworn I was sitting in my seat for a solid 3 hours. The sudden locust disaster was like throwing the Bible in my face; I'm totally fine with metaphors and allusions, but this was completely over the top. Clearly the message was, "Don't marry for money or bad things will happen to you." Very original.
I understand that "Days of Heaven," like all of Terrence Malick's films, is meant to be a piece of art. And I will certainly agree that the cinematography is simply stunning, and the magic hour shots add a unique aura to the film. But I need more than nice pictures to enjoy a film, and this one just didn't do it for me.
Days of Heaven is, in fact, what its highest praisers want you to
believe: awe-inspiring cinema, sometimes even mind-blowing in what can
be filmed and brought forth in a beautiful, seamless mold of narrative
and poetry, photographed with an eye for the prairie and fields like
very few others and for the period detail. But it's also wonderful- and
haunting- because it evokes what it is to look back on something and
remember things vividly, clearly, with a subjectivity that is startling
in its scarred interior. This is child-actor Linda Manz, her first role
in what is a relatively small career, and she voices, in grungy but
fine vocal, from afar at times even as she's one of the principle
She's the kid sister of Bill (Richard Gere, a very good if not extraordinary performance compared to others), a factory worker who kills a man by accident and runs off with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), and the three of them end up working for a farmer (Sam Shephard), and soon there's a love triangle formed wrapped around an elaborate con of Bill and Abby being brother and sister. These are just the facts, but director Terence Malick isn't after just those, but after a sad look back from a perspective of wonderment and horror and a kind of fractured innocence. It goes without saying that since it is a Malick picture one will expect the painterly landscapes of the fields, those intimate close-ups with bugs and waving fields of grass. But Malick is able to put a unique vision into the perspective of that of a little girl, who is seeing and experiencing everything as it is, not as it may be really imagined or wanting to be.
So there's a lot of interest already just in the nature of the farming on this panhandle in early 20th century. But there's just little things, little fantastic bits that stick in your mind, probably forever: the workers in the field toiling away; the black man tap-dancing by the barn; the airplane circus people coming by and showing silent films. Most notably, as well, are near biblical visions like the plague (and extinguishing by lots of fire) of locusts. And through all of the many, many beautiful shots, there's a tender and perfectly tragic love story played out with great work by Adams and a young Shepherd. Manz too, I might add, is excellent in a role that could have been mucked up by anyone else (also trumping a later future first-time performance in Malick's own The New World with the woman playing Pocahontas).
And as if the crisp eye of Malick and his DPs Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler weren't enough, there's Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack to boot. Here's a crucial part of Malick's success in translating the theme of remembrance and feeling both the moment and the mood of the whole period and characters in the film (sometimes combined): just listen to the theme of the movie, used later in movie trailers and commercials, as it reckons a nostalgic tinge for something that one can't firmly grasp but is felt deeply and without really fully knowing the whole scope. Overall, Days of Heaven is almost too good, too beautiful- it's the kind of picture that defines reputations, for better or worse. Like Malick's. A+
Days of heaven is exactly what this is. The magic hour (when much of
the film was shot), those moments before dawn and after dusk when
everything is indirect, dreamlike, breathless, heartwaking. There's no
real story, as such. Sure, there's a general plot line which should
satisfy any casual viewer. This isn't, after all, a hard film to
follow. It is simply that the environment is the main character as
opposed to the human elements. Linda Manz's young character narrates
the story sporadically, like a sleepy traveler beside the campfire
telling you of half-forgotten memories, and wonderful, casual
observations that will seem clearer in the morning light, but no longer
worth mentioning. Her voice is halting and uncertain, belying a
personality that is confident in all other respects. Other actors, good
(Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard) and not-so-good (Richard Gere) blend in
perfectly. Their performances are so understated that you forget they
are actors playing characters. Even Richard Gere, who never learned
subtlety and would never again employ it, is almost invisible here.
This is not a long film. For all its leisurely pace, ninety-six minutes is all it needs to tell its tale. Terrence Malick is out for sight and sound. There is nothing lost to unneeded expression, nothing not shared in the space in front of you. That leaves cinematographer Néstor Almendros with the freedom to photograph, to observe without opinion whatever seems to be happening most openly before him.
When I first finished watching "Days of Heaven" it felt like waking from a dream. I couldn't be sure how much time has passed. It seemed so long, but the silence was the same, and little had changed outside my window. Nothing but the heavy quiet was all around me, and I felt the desperate desire to move. Everything beneath my feet felt moving, quietly slipping past and all I had to do was put soles to earth and start walking. This is a film of photographs, images of the purest sort. Open your eyes.
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