Days of Heaven (1978)

Last summer I tried to watch The Thin Red Line. I didn’t get too far. All of the huge name actors showing up throughout reminded me too much of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what Terrence Malick was going for. (Isn’t Phil Silvers in the Thin Red Line for a minute?)

The New World, well, Colin Farrell insured that I’d stay away from that one. But I was really struck by the cinematography of the Assassination of Jesse James, which of course got compared – poorly often – to Malick, though I thought the shots there were quite beautiful.

So, heartened by its 90 minute running time, I picked up the new Criterion edition of Days of Heaven. Anyone seen this recently? It’s really an impressive piece of work. The cinematography, of course, but also Sam Shepard’s performance – just the way his face looked throughout – was wonderful. Richard Gere, alas, looked like Richard Gere. Usually movies in the 1970s had the decency to cast actors who didn’t look like freaking models from the pages of Vogue. Except for Gere. He looks like the Fonz when he’s supposed to be working in a filthy Chicago factory.

And while the scenery is beautiful, why are we supposed to believe this is the Texas Panhandle? Really? That area between Mexico and New Mexico? I’d say it looks more like the northern plains. Perhaps, even Alberta, Canada, which is where it was filmed. That little leap of faith aside though, I was mightily impressed by what I saw here. Anyone else see it recently or have thoughts on Malick’s stuff?

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Mark Mauer likes movies cuz the pictures move, and the screen talks like it's people. He once watched Tales from the Gilmli Hostpial three times in a single night, and is amazed DeNiro made good movies throughout the 80s, only to screw it all up in the 90s and beyond. He has met both Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, and he knows an Irishman who can quote at length from the autobiography of Klaus Kinksi.

4 thoughts on “Days of Heaven (1978)”

  1. last watched it 4 or 5 years ago, and thought it was utterly stunning. i also remember thinking that it was in many ways the same film as badlands–but i don’t think i could explain that now, if i tried. and, alas, i don’t remember enough specifics to be able to say very much about it. the cinematography is really beautiful, but it’s also almost the most expressive character in the film (just as in the more desolate badlands).

    i recently watched david gordon green’s george washington, which i liked fine. while watching it though i kept getting reminded of something else, but i couldn’t place it. a couple of reviews mentioned green’s admiration of malick, and it kinda made sense.

  2. Green is funnier than Malick.

    I got the chance to go see Days on a big-screen, during a revival a couple years back. Malick always seems to couple an intensely inward-facing “plot” with lush, almost visceral evocations of the external world. I think that if you see any of his films–the best (Days and Badlands) to the weaker (but far from weak Thin Red and New World)–on the big screen, that constant dialectic, the constant contrast of voiceover/consciousness and Worldview is sensorily and cognitively astounding. I mean astounding in the most direct sense: it overwhelms. I recall just sitting dumb as credits rolled after Days, and seeing Thin years later on the small-screen made me realize what a difference the experience of film makes.

    I don’t know exactly what I mean here, but it’s that notion of “experience” which seems a key to Malick. (He’s got a degree in philosophy, having studied Heidegger and phenomenology, said fact perhaps influencing my read here, but…) How do we live in the natural world, when we are separated from it? Can we think, feel our way into it?

    At times this can come off as primitivist claptrap (many scenes in Thin), at other times it’s staggering because the experience of watching replicates that problem. Can we think, feel our way into the world via representation?

    Great line about the Fonz. Actually makes me want to watch Pretty Woman again, see how he makes out with Leather Tuscadero Brockovich.

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