Friday, February 15, 2013


Strangely enough,  the only other Terrence Malik film I have ever seen is BADLANDS (1973),  and it somehow barely left an impression forty years later.  Memory and nostalgia have taken turns to little effect,  sadly.  I recently experienced Criterion's Blu-ray edition of DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978),  and I must say that its visual poetry and embrace of nature (environmental and personal,  both ineffable) blew me away. While there is emotional drama here,  the personal is swept away by the elemental (fire) and even the Biblical  (a swarm of locusts).  It seems to be a film about the beauty,  banality,  power  and profundity of that outer nature,  qualities that also materialize in the wonderful voiceover by Linda Manz (whose apparently improvised lines were later edited into its present form).  Her strangely twisted voice (a bizarre NYC accent) pokes unexpectedly in and out of a soundtrack containing scant dialogue,  balancing between sense and nonsense,  while also hinting at troubling truths and insights.

“I met this guy named Ding-Dong.
He tell me the whole earth is going up in flames.
Flames will come out of here and there, and it’ll just rise up.
The mountains are going to go up in big flames.
The water’s going to rise in flames.
There’s going to be creatures running every which way, some of them burnt, half their wings burnin.
People are going to be screaming and howling for help.
They—The people that’s been good, they’re going to go to heaven and escape all that fire.
But if you’ve been bad, God don’t even hear you. He don’t even hear you"

Linda's narration is the human factor in a film that is nearly overwhelmed by Nature.  The other star here is light itself,  tamed and made all the more tactile by cinematographer Nestor Almendros.  Suggestions of Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth abound,  and help us connect with the landscapes and the few interior shots. I won't even go into the plot here,  as the film's visuals are far more important then the dialogue between actors.  DAYS OF HEAVEN initially puzzled audiences expecting Hollywood,  but now seems like the first breath of a new kind of visual storytelling.

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