Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Days Of Heaven (1978)

I love films that can foreshadow their entire selves in the opening image or sequence. You get a micro version of what is to come. Terence Malick’s ‘Day’s Of Heaven’ accomplishes this task extremely well. We meet Bill (Richard Gere). Bill works at a steel mill in turn of the 20th century Chicago; it’s a tough job, but an honest one. One day his foreman picks on him. Bill gets mad and attacks him. We are supposed to infer that the foreman was killed, though the attack isn’t overly vicious. Malick isn’t interested in moments of violence as much as the emotional reaction they create. Bill goes on the run with his little sister (Linda Manz) and his lover Abby (Brooke Adams). They end up in Texas harvesting wheat with a few hundred other people. The work is hard, and the pay is low, but Malick isn’t interested in showing us hardship either. In their down time the workers seem very happy. They don’t discriminate against each other because of race or gender; it’s all very idyllic and beautiful. Malick treats us to images of wide open fields, oceans of wheat billowing in the wind, gorgeous sunsets, horses running free in the dark, a horizon completely clear save for a single house. The house belongs to Sam Shepard, who the credits list simply as “The Farmer.” One day The Farmer learns that he is dying, as he looks out over his fields, and he spies Abby and falls in love. Abby and Bill discus the mater and decide to stay with him. They’ve been telling everyone that they were brother and sister. So as the harvest ends Bill, Abby and Linda move into the house and lead a life of idyllic leisure they have never known. The love triangle is cemented when The Farmer marries Abby. Bill doesn’t object, after all he knows the man is dying, and they have everything they could ever want.

It would be bad to say more about the story. I could talk about the emotions and the conflicts of the characters, but the movie isn’t really about that. The emotions in this film are private. The most vivid character is the little girl who occasionally provides colorful voice-over. It can be argued that the movie is really her story, because apart form her; the other characters seem more like archetypes than real people. This would explain why the adults seem so removed, because a child would have limited insight into their feelings. All this is emphasized by the photography, done by NĂ©ster Almendros and Haskell Wexler, the actors often appear in silhouette or near silhouette like characters in a storybook painting. The photography also evokes a sense of period, which the film does wonderfully. All this works thematically too, it’s very “dark side of the American dream,” it’s all very Bruce Springsteen. If the film does one thing well it’s evoking. Every Terence Malick image is worth 10,000 words. It’s probably one of the best looking films of its time. I just wish I felt a little more for the people in it. I found myself really searching for more meaning.

If this movie were about anything more than it’s images, it would be frustration. We are told that Bill always wanted to be something more than a working-class nobody, but as he confesses to The Farmer in one scene, he never was smart enough to come up with a “big score.” He has that feeling you get when you have too much time to yourself that no matter how good you have it that there’s still something wrong. The Farmer gets frustrated too when he begins to notice how affectionate she is with her ‘brother.’

I might be grasping at straws, but it is a thin film emotionally, though fantastic to look at. So I’m going to recommend it on those grounds. It does work thematically just not emotionally. So if you’re a photography nut like me or you like soulful, poetic images, or you just want the feeling that you’re on vacation than this is something to examine. Otherwise, it’s not essential viewing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hello there. Pardon my dust.

My name is Loren Greenblatt. I am an aspiring filmmaker. I've created this blog to showcase my photos, writing and artwork as well as some reviews of my favorite movies. So in the coming weeks expect to see some of that. I'll try to also provide commentary on my art.