Early this morning HE reader “gazer” wrote that yesterday’s riff about (a) alleged buyer reactions to Terrence Malick‘s To The Wonder and (b) my judgments about Sarah Green and Nick Gonda‘s apparent tendencies as Malick’s producers (“Malick’s Enablers Doing Him No Favors“) boil down to my “essentially trying to lobotomize a filmmaker who rubs [me] the wrong way.” I wrote a response an hour ago:
Wells to gazer: Malick doesn’t rub me that aversely. He’s always been a very special, obviously gifted filmmaker-poet-dreamer-painter. Most people understand that. His personality and spiritual worldview are part of the threadwork of everything he’s done, and he’s influenced others here and there. Badlands and Days of Heaven are mesmerizing works. But more to the point, they’re disciplined…unlike, in my view, the films he’s made since he returned 14 years ago from his J.D. Salinger-like withdrawal with The Thin Red Line.
I read Malick’s fascinating draft of The Thin Red Line script in ’96. It was quite different than the 1998 film that he shot and cut together — compressed, tightly threaded, far less meditative. The New World gets better and better every time I see it — I watched the longest director’s cut on Bluray a year or so ago and was really taken away by the primeval Jamestown portion, although I still felt and do feel unsatisfied and even irked when Colin Farrell abruptly disappears and Christian Bale shows up and Pocahantas travels to England and suddenly dies. And I thought that the first hour or so of The Tree of Life was sad and moving and detestable and quietly mind-blowing, but that the center didn’t hold and it kind of spaced itself out and lost the thread, whatever that thread may have been. (I’m forgetting now.)
My point is that Malick’s method of shooting and particularly editing strikes me as random and swirly and catch-as-catch-can, and in a strange way almost forced. He shoots what he shoots and then he tosses the lettuce leaves into the air and grabs a leaf here and there and eliminates Sean Penn‘s Tree of Life character or Adrien Brody‘s Thin Red Line character (“Fife”) when the mood strikes, and then he picks some strands of pollen fibre out of the air and weaves them through the lettuce leaves and throws it all together into some kind of swoony patchwork ball of yarn or free-association mescaline trip — an impressionist fever dream by a guy who’s looking to rewrite the manual.
Which is very brave and exciting on his part, and at the same time bothersome, depending on my mood when I’m watching one of his more recent films. I basically feel/believe that the Malick of the ’70s was a much more interesting and transporting director than the one who re-emerged with The Thin Red Line — that’s all. I’m not dismissing him out of hand or saying that he rubs me the wrong way….although he actually kind of does at times. But he also amazes and delights me from time to time.