From his late appearance on the tip of the 60s with his debut short film, Lanton Mills (1969), to his most recent visit to the Cannes Film Festival with The Tree of Life (2011), Terrence Malick has kept us all guessing. For me, an avid film fanatic, the lack of interviews provided with Malick in person is a thing of great beauty; especially in an era obsessed with the paparazzi chase of celebrities and constant “rumoured” projects announced as publicity stunts.
Malick has become a cocooned film-maker, occasionally coming out of his shell to reveal a stunning butterfly of a film; and then disappearing once again. As if he doesn’t exist within the usual spectrum of film makers, working away in some utopian separated from our own – only returning when he has something to say.
…a wide capturing eye that sees the world’s finest details and its biological formation.
Malick’s body of work often leaves the impression of “naturalistic” cinematic spaces; his form of fictional storytelling bypasses the initial drama of character relationships for a wide capturing eye that sees the world’s finest details and its biological formation. A perfect example of this would be the sudden infestation of crickets in Days of Heaven (1978), where sharp renaissance lighting depicts small snapshots of everyone finding these insects, whether it is the hovering camera angle which dangles our perspective over the food being prepared and then the sudden cut to an extreme close up of one crawling on food, or Brooke Adams washing her face in the room above; only to find something in the white ceramic bowel.
…often take his viewers through spaces and different cultures and classes…
In a similar fashion, the open roads of “Badlands” capture various American landscapes, from the suburban to city drive-ins, then to rural dust sheets of desert chase scenes. Here Malick proves that his apt negotiation of storytelling is a tool with which he is able to counterpart a journey with, thus allowing his narrative to often take his viewers through spaces and different cultures and classes, something that he would only continue to repeat with The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World (2005).
In recent years, the Cannes Film Festival has awarded its crown jewel to films which do just this, often choosing the film which captures a microcosm of society undergoing a radical change, for example World War One’s anticipation in The White Ribbon (2009) and the visiting ghosts of Uncle Boonmee (2010). So it was no surprise when Malick was awarded the Palme D’or.
…Malick provides a playground for us to enter.
One can only make the assumption that there is more underneath the stunning photography of Emanuel Lubezki and Malick’s direction – as long as we make the essential acceptance to be taken away on a voyage with his work, and its content; Malick provides a playground for us to enter.
Using a well perfected formula of twenty years of work, which only nears Stanley Kubrick’s pace, it is as if we are being offered to step away from the cinema space and enter another, more graceful and cathartic experience, which washes over some as a delight; and others as a pain.
…Malick’s eye is diamond sharp, and forever enthralling…
Nonetheless, Malick’s cinema is one of hidden treasures, and moments which define what is “cinematic”, such as the scene with which Jessica Chastain’s finger becomes the resting place for a butterfly in The Tree of Life, or when we spin 360’s degrees free fall in The Thin Red Line, Malick’s eye is diamond sharp, and forever enthralling – and one that should be looked out for this year, with the UK release of The Tree of Life and the upcoming untitled project of 2012.
Image courtesy of Terrence Malick and The Tree Of Life