I finally got around to seeing it, last night, and felt compelled for some reason to record my impressions. Which lie, for you should you care, right after the jump.
I’ve been teaching Days of Heaven on and off for a several years now, and I transcribed Linda Manz‘s voice-over narration because I couldn’t find it online anywhere. Besides being one of the most extraordinary aspects of the film, it ranks as some of the finest poetry of the past 35 years.
Director Terrence Malick famously added Manz’s narration well after the film was completed; supposedly he showed her the film and let her comment freely (in character) on its scenes, then cut out portions and added them to the soundtrack. The result makes the film simultaneously more and less accessible (as Roger Ebert notes: “I remember seeing the film for the first time and being blind-sided by the power of a couple of sentences she speaks near the end”); it also rewrites the film as Linda’s story, giving it a narrative and emotional center essential to the film’s coherence. Days of Heaven is unimaginable without it, and I might argue that no one—Malick very much included—has used narration so masterfully, and so poetically, since.
The full text is below the jump.
[By now it was late. The three stars were dimpling the sky. The baby raccoon was crying for its milk (I’d taken in an orphan the week before). But Jeremy and I weren’t finished yet discussing the movies we’d just watched.]
A D: You had a rather serious reaction to this one, Jeremy. Were you crying afterward?
Jeremy: Yes. Crying because I realized how much of my life I had wasted watching movies. What George Lucas did for his own franchise with the prequels, Malick did for all of cinema with The Tree of Life.
Well, Arthur Penn died. He was of course a great director. And of course everyone will be talking about how great Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is—and it is great. It’s one of the most important of American films; along with John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), it essentially kick-started 1970s cinema, and that decade’s auteur-driven New Hollywood.
But, for my money, Penn’s best movie was Night Moves (1975).
Update: Related posts that may interest you:
- “Art as Device, and Device (When it Works) as Miracle“
- “Scott Pilgrim vs. Inception for the Future of the Cinematic Imagination“
- “More on Inception: Shot Economy and 1 + 1 = 1“
- “My Favorite New Movies of 2010“
- “A D Jameson talks about movies #1: The opening scenes of Inception” (YouTube)
- “The Ever Risable Dark Knight” (HTMLGIANT)
- “We Need to Talk About Batman” (HTMLGIANT)
- “Reading Frank Miller’s influences on Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy” (HTMLGIANT)
- “Reading Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” parts 1, 2, 3, 4 5, 6, 7, 8
Christopher Nolan, while presumably a rather likable fellow (he does give work to Michael Caine), is a depressingly artless filmmaker. To be sure, some of the concepts in this new one are clever enough (even if they play like weak snatches from Philip K. Dick): the military developed shared dreaming, which then became a tool for corporate espionage—sure thing. The great Dom Cobb and his team now must infiltrate a businessperson’s mind in order to plant the seed of an idea, rather than steal one—a nice enough twist, and a fine enough premise for a caper.
But Nolan then fails to dramatize his concepts. His primary—indeed, practically his only—tool for delivering information to the audience is character dialogue. Rarely does anyone shut his or her mouth during the 148 minutes that are Inception. Its actors are talking threadbare ciphers, eager mouthpieces for their director.
Examples abound. After failing in their mission to deceive Saito, Cobb remarks to his teammate Arthur: “We were supposed to deliver Saito’s expansion plans to Cobol Engineering two hours ago. By now they know we failed.” (A potential response: “Hey, dude, I’m, like, your partner. I know the score!”) An even better one: the line where Cobb points out to Michael Caine’s character—a university professor teaching in Paris—”You know extradition between France and the US is a legal nightmare.” Yes, Mssr. Professor Caine probably does, in fact, know that! But I’m sure that somebody way in the back row was happy to hear.