One of the most revered of American directors, Terrence Malick’s films stand majestically outside of the currents of cultural and cinematic fashion, mixing lushly tangible physicality and heady, mystical rumination. New Worlds: The Films of Terrence Malick has been extended due to popular demand to June 19.
“[Malick’s] films are neither literary nor theatrical, in the sense of foregrounding dialogue, event, or character, but are instead principally cinematic, movies that suggest narrative, emotion, and idea through image and sound.”—Chris Wisniewski, Reverse Shot
One of the most revered of American filmmakers, Terrence Malick was the odd man out of the New American Cinema generation that included such figures as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, William Friedkin, Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson. Where these filmmakers focused primarily on youth, energy and the jagged rhythms of urban life, Malick’s was a pastoral palette, elusive, mysterious, and possessed of a remarkably unsentimental kind of nostalgia. There is an out-of-time quality about Malick’s seventies films beyond the fact that they are set in the American past: a certain distance from the prevailing cultural and cinematic fashions of the time, a relative lack of the datedness that afflicts even the best films of his celebrated contemporaries. Furthermore, while the “film brats” soon found themselves struggling to resist or exist within the blockbuster era beginning at the end of the 1970s, Malick chose to remove himself completely. After releasing Days of Heaven
in 1978, he went into a twenty-year self-exile that only fed his legend as a kind of cinematic poet untouched and untroubled by the demands of commerce, no matter that all of his films have employed copious studio resources.
When Malick re-emerged in 1998 with the all-star war epic The Thin Red Line
, it was immediately evident that the decades-long interval had done nothing to dim the unmistakable singularity of his vision. Growing up in Texas, Malick spent many youthful summers as a farmhand prior to entering Harvard to obtain a degree in philosophy, and it is this encounter between lushly tangible physicality and heady, mystical rumination that has come to define his cinema, revealing the tensions between the natural environment and the transient human presences that pass through it. It’s little wonder that Malick’s films are so often compared to poetry: even as his eternally wondering characters air their thoughts via voiceover, the films create meaning more through the rhythm, pacing and duration of shots than through the solidity of words.
Like his fellow “recluse,” the late Stanley Kubrick, Malick has worked with some of the greatest studio craftsmen—including top cinematographers Tak Fujimoto, Nestor Almendros, Haskell Wexler, John Toll and Emmanuel Lubezki—and employed the full range of Hollywood’s technical resources to create films that are markedly different from the usual run of Hollywood product. As he has since the very beginning of his career, Malick looks back even as he moves forward. His greatly anticipated new film, The Tree of Life
—which moves between the 1950s, the present day and the very beginnings of the universe—marks the return to the screen (after a Malick-beating three decades) of Douglas Trumbull, who Malick contacted specifically to recreate the processes that the special effects giant first created for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
. A transcendent experience that stands among his finest achievements, The Tree of Life
further attests to the timelessness of Malick’s cinema, that unique, elusive quality that makes them endlessly revisitable, endlessly fascinating.—Jesse WenteNotes by Andrew Tracy.