The BFI has picked a good time to launch its first-ever retrospective on “modern American cinema’s great poet-philosopher”, Terrence Malick: the filmmaker’s stock has rarely been higher.
Palme d’Or winning The Tree of Life, one of the year’s most talked-about films, divided audiences sharply, and was in general either hailed as a masterpiece or dismissed as the most pretentious piece of tosh ever made (for this writer it’s one of the most beautiful and beguiling films of recent years). The famously reclusive and unhurried filmmaker is also entering a period of uncharacteristic activity, with one film set to be released next year and production underway on another. Having made only five movies in the past four decades, Malick may feel he has a lot of time to make up for.
The highlight of the BFI’s season is a new digital print of Days of Heaven, Malick’s 1978 film set on a Texas farm during the Depression, which is famed for the director’s stubborn insistence that the entire movie be shot during the ‘golden hour‘, which as any landscape photographer knows, lasts a lot fewer than 60 minutes. The painstaking result is a beautiful evocation of rural America in the 1920s, and the new print, which Malick himself helped oversee, is a marvel of muted, authentic colours and impeccable Southern sunsets.
The season also features the rest of Malick’s small body of work, from his debut Badlands (1973), through to his star-studded WW2 drama The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World (2005), an underrated re-telling of the Pocahontas myth.
The season starts 2nd September and runs until 12th October. See the BFI website for full details of screening times.
Though Malick is publicity-shy to the point of obsession — he doesn’t do interviews nor allow himself to be photographed on set — he did in fact made brief cameos in his earlier films: here’s a clip of him in Badlands (clue: he’s the one that’s not Martin Sheen).