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DAYS OF HEAVEN
1978 - Terrence Malick
United States
4
Opening Shot

Set to the backdrop of Carnival of the Animals: The Aquarium (composed by Camille Saint-Saens and performed by The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) the opening credits are displayed with a montage of still photographs capturing the feeling and sense of poverty that will remain throughout the film. The last still is that of Linda Manz who plays the young girl and narrator of the film. Day of Heaven then open with a long shot outside a factory building.

The Film

"This girl, she didn't know where she was going, or what she was gonna do. She didn't have no money. Maybe she'd meet up with a character. I was hoping things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine." This is an incredible artistic filmmaking achievement. Flawless on all levels of cinema (visual and emotionally)! The brilliant Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven features some of the most breathtaking cinematography I've ever seen in a film. With this film Malick shows that beautiful cinematography isn't just showing the audience pretty pictures, but rather shows the art, symbolism, and idea of it. Days of Heaven doesn't simply use nature as the background, and instead makes nature an equal character to the film's human characters. The scenery, music, and use of voice over absorbs the viewer into it's poetic, stunning world of visuals and sound. It's a simple story which has been criticized as dull. However that can be more so true when viewed from the point of view of the adult characters (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams). The film is really about it's narrator, a young girl who goes from a dangerous life on the move, to a life of hope and security, and then painfully has it all taken away again. Everything in the film is shown in relation to how it effects her. Also, as with all Malick's films, he shows his tremendous respect for the audience, as it moves along without unnecessary explanations as if the viewer isn't paying attention. Days of Heaven is a gorgeously photographed, scored and directed film which portrays the artistic vision of cinema to indescribable poetic depths of beauty. An absolute masterpiece from a master filmmaker!

The Filmmaker

Though he has made just four feature films in a career that has spanned over 30 years, Terrence Malick stands as one of the greatest visionaries in the history of cinema. Malick is contemporary American cinema's master poet (and emerging from his wings is American cinema's future poet David Gordon Green). Malick's four films are each unique yet share similar visions and cinematic techniques. His transcendent use of imagery and sound, unconventional use of voice-over narration, symbolic visuals (which usually feature elements such as earth, fire, water), lush and rhythmic editing, absorbing use of nature, lyrically complex counter-pointing narratives all embody and define the artistic visionary world of Malick's work. He is a perfectionist (obviously) who controls or oversees every detail of his film. Malick is also an enigma. Besides his lengthy hiatuses, you'll never see him at award ceremonies, interviews, or even production stills and behind the scenes featurettes. As a filmmaker, he is a genius. His films have such a transcendent beauty that far surpasses any type of analyzing I can justify. Malick is a filmmaker who explores his environments through exact, poetic and breathtaking compositions. The characters of his films are often presented in a way that they are part of, or inescapable from, a historic moment or a certain time and location. His films (with the possible exception of 1998's Thin Red Line) center around a strong, independent female that build individuality within a world of masculinity. Malick studied and taught philosophy as well as journalism and the influence is evident in his films. His filmmaking influences range but certainly Carl Theoder Dreyer and especially FW Murnau come to mind. Above all Malick's cinema challenges the audience by breaking conventions of narrative filmmaking. His films are less focused with plot, or even complex ideas and philosophical theories. They are films of feeling in the purest form of cinema, through images and sound. His films are about senses, which is why they transcend intellectual examination as well as transcend genre or narrative form. Malick's films counterpoint reality and fiction through the sheer purity of cinematic images. Nature or more importantly humanities harmony with nature lies at the very heart of all his films. The essence of Malick's cinematic world is like a river of water in several ways. For one nothing in his films are steadily attached to itself (either in subject matter or in appearance). Rather everything flows together like a river and Malick works as the rivers guide towards a flowing movement. Malick's first feature film, 1973's Badlands is a groundbreaking achievement in American film. It is his most narrative-based film and perhaps the most similar to the French New Wave, but still stands as a definitive representation of his vision in style and themes. Of course the use of repetitive symbolic imagery and especially voice-over is most definitive of Malick. Malick uses voice-over differently in every film he's made but it is always masterfully effective (and maybe at it's best in Badlands). In a way Malick's use of voice-over becomes a film onto itself and takes on it's own meditative experience. Such is the case with Malick's second film, 1978's Days of Heaven (which concludes with a beautiful voice-over saying: "This girl, she didn't know where she was going, or what she was gonna do. She didn't have no money. Maybe she'd meet up with a character. I was hoping things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine."). Days of Heaven is perhaps Malick's greatest and certainly most quintessential film. In it's most basic concept, Days of Heaven defines Malick's philosophy of film in that everything (be it humanity, nature, or spiritual) exists and has an identity. Malick's third film, Thin Red Line (made 20 years after Days of Heaven) again presents a world in which nature and humanity co-exists equally. It's less a war film then it is a philosophical one that examines the morality, evil, and madness of both humanity and nature, whiles questions an existence that is formed through conflicts (conflicts of man and nature; war and peace; life and death; heaven and hell). Really at the center of the film (or any of Malick's films) is an expression to understand nature and this is captured through Malick's use of imagery and editing. Malick's fourth film (made another seven years after Thin Red Line) is perhaps his most ambitious and spiritually transcending to date. The New World perfectly embodies Malick's sense of his film flowing like a river both in cinematic style and in thematic metaphor, as the film begins and ends with credits displaying shaping forms of a flowing river. Above all The New World is an epic poem on film that expresses its beauty and depth through precise imagery and sound. The film becomes a spiritual journey that leaves for the viewer to dream. Re-establishing narrative convention, Malick leaves the narrative meaning upon the viewer through cinematic images and sound. Take for example the moment just before Rebecca (Pocahontas) goes to England there is a transfer cut to an image of ocean waves, or the effortless single cut from an ice-covered lake of the winter to a seasonal change of flowers in the spring. It is this rhythmic and subconscious ease that transcends Malick's film into a dream-like and spiritual experience that only the very greatest achievements of artistic film can capture (Sunrise, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Late Spring, Au hasard Balthazar, Sansho Dayu, Persona are a few that quickly come to mind). These are film experiences and that is the very essence of Malick's films. Though they transcend analyzing, Malick's films still become a means for meditation and thought of the composition and expression of the film images and the sound. Malick's films are cinematic experience that equally haunt and obtain spiritual, imaginative, and philosophical thought. They are poetic journeys that transcendent time and place. His four films stand among the most memorable artistic achievements in film. Hopefully we will see a fifth feature!

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