I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before, but I’m off to see Malick’s latest today, which is playing at a staggering two screens in London – how the mighty have fallen. I appreciate the reviews have been less than glowing, but hey it is Malick and he always demands a big screen assessment;
Apologies for the quality but I think you fellow cinephiles will understand, that we are definitely in the midst of an end times scerario. I expect to see Pynchon on Fox news next week;
He’s actually getting quite prolific in his advancing years isn’t he, with yet another one on the way, and I haven’t even seen the erratically praised Voyage Of Time yet. Some scamps have already anointed it as ‘Wide-Angle: The Movie’ which should became fairly evident when you watch the trailer;
Inevitably the backlash has been arrested with a backlash, with some defending Malick’s recent mystery. I’m still percolating, and as I said I think I need another couple of viewings, but it has been playing on my mind beyond the surface issues. At the very least an American director interrogating and refracting on previous world cinema heights is to be celebrated, a quite rare incident these days, as illustrated here;
Maybe Marvel should give him the first slot in phase 4, although they’ve probably missed a trick with the imminent Dr. Strange movie. His take on yet another rebooted Fantastic Four picture might make it right, complete with a philosophical Silver Surfer and an imperious Galactus silently pondering the nature of the infinite, the indiscriminate cycle of birth and death, although this pitch might not be as wise as my nomination of Sophia Coppola to direct a Halo Jones adaption. OK, OK, hear me out – Malick directs mildly Angry Birds 2?
Ah, a new Terence Malick film. Like the pulse of the tide the attitude of the critical fraternity ebbs and wanes with the Texas tested preacher, and as I vaguely understand it from skim-reading initial thoughts from last year’s festival ornithology his latest hymn wasn’t exactly wooing the faithful. ‘Treading water’, ‘lapsing into self-parody’ and ‘self-indulgent and pretentious’ seems to be the consensus, with this his mere seventh film in his forty year career. There is a long and illustrious history of filmmakers satirizing the hand that feeds, of pouring their scorn and derision on the industry and trappings of Tinseltown, its vacuous inhabitants and never ending thirst for success, prestige and power – think Billy Wilder in Sunset Boulevard, Minelli in The Bad & The Beautiful, Altman in The Player and more recently Cronenberg in Maps To The Stars. Given the sour subject matter and critical opinion it’s a miracle that the film managed a release at all, distributors were evidently nervous about the films commercial potential despite the presence of such a heavyweight auteur before the project, and his last film To The Wonder also didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Nevertheless I kept a cautious eye on the release schedule, and was relived to see a paltry 7 days window release on just three screens in the capital, somewhat limited my screen9ing options in tandem with the schedule. At the end of the day it is a new Malick picture and such kinship means that a cinema viewing is absolutely essential, so I trundled over to the Curzon Soho which has had something of an internal facelift last week, to see what all the fuss was about. The result is quite a difficult experience to decouple and decant from thoughts to words, and a mere philistine might belittle Knight Of Cups as I did with a friend as essentially ‘the Sean Penn sequences in Tree Of Life stretched out to two hours’….
Christian Bale is the distant and slightly shambolic Ricky, a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter adrift on the turbulent seas of life. Rootless and encumbered he embarks on an internalized quest to shatter the spell of his dismay, embarking on a series of dalliances with a sextet of alluring women: the spirited Della (Imogen Poots), his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), exotic fashion model (Freida Pinto), an affair with the married Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a Las Vegas sojourn with playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer), and a final interlocution with Isabel (Isabel Lucas) who sparks some succour for his ailing soul. Ricky is also grappling with a tremulous relationship with his faintly estranged father (Brian Denehay) and his substance recovery healing brother (Wes Bentley), seemingly the only settled segments of his life revolving around commerce and the fiscal seduction of the film business. The romances and interludes and in Ricky’s life are dissected into chapter headings culled from the Tarot, signalling the yearning for a spiritual epiphany which Ricky desires, as prowls a vision of Los Angeles as a jungle of glass, asphalt and chrome, and whatever Knight Of Cups may or may not be is it’s unquestionably one of the most beautifully photographed films of the year.
So, another film about an obscenely wealthy, enormously privileged white dude who has to endure the soul sapping prospect of fucking numerous hot starlets and attending a carnage of Hollywood parties and screenings, if you listen very carefully that’s the sound of the world’s first molecular scale violin playing for Ricky’s lamentable ennui. Well, that attitude seems to be the prevailing view of Knight of Cups which I’ll admit oscillates between tear inducing sublimity to wrenching boredom, Malick growing even more defiant in his rejection of classical storytelling modes, in this his most outlier and oblique film to date. The dramatic dilution has never more rigorously enforced, in standardised cinema scenes are arranged to erect some sense of a procession of events and incidents that build a character and their story, a tradition which this has been murdered at the altar of pure sensation and aerial affinity, as the film dances between location and whispered voiceover to provide a choir of yearning, seeking symbiosis. One section for example sees Ricky being robbed by two hoodlums in a frantic home invasion, a sequence which Malick pares back to about 30 seconds, drowning out the barked orders in favour of Ricky’s internal monologue. In other films that event would have been mined for all its threatening empathy, in Knight Of Cups it’s a mere aside, an empty gesture which forms another indifferent thread on his tapestry of life. Judging by the credits he’s exhausted no less than three editors on this film, parsing the incredible volume of material his improvisation technique produces , and he must be the only director working within the A list who manages to get his films funded, made and distributed without having any sort of script or storyboards to anchor the actors and performance. In terms of the closest film that this reminded me of was Fellini’s 8 1/2 which takes a similar approach to life as carnival, as a pandemonium procession of empty experiences that serve no nourishment for the soul, with a conflicted and apathy stricken protagonist wandering through Emmanuelle Lubetski’s glorious, celestial spanning environments.
Regardless of the final perceived pretension of the film which may rest in the eye of the beholder I just have to admire any filmmaker who is pushing at the envelope of his own, uniquely formed aesthetic, with Malick is pushing his style even further into the purlieus of paradise. The production anecdotes reveal a completely liberated filming experience, with no confining structures such as marks or dialogue shackling the performers to any sort of plot, but those ideological underplays can provide a clear roadmap any comprehension on the part of the viewer. The film frequently abandons sequential time and instead adopts visual representations of consciousness, with a total absence of what could be classed as a purely functional shot, an insert to convey story information say, as instead every sequence holds some symbolic or representative power which although overwhelming in places can occasionally link together to evoke a truly divine drive. Narrative, the absolute unimpeachable nucleus of classical Hollywood cinema is pushed to the margins in favour of emotion and internal debate and that is radical as modern Hollywood seems to offer. The steadicam work hangs slyphlike on the borders of a scene, unwilling to penetrate, instead surefootedly interrogating the internal empathy of the sequence and the thoughts and yearning of consciousness’s trapped in these frail physical vessels. However regenerative these techniques there is no question that the presentation of women is problematic, through the whispered voiceovers and lingering shots of Ricky’s conquests the only figure to emerge with any coherent personality is Blanchet as his semi-estranged ex-wife, unless the film is subtly suggesting that this is how Ricky sees his numerous paramours, as inscrutable creatures placed aloft some lofty pedestal to be worshipped until their novelty is spent. At the very minimum this will require future viewings and as a fan I did enjoy this experience, despite some of the problems inherent in the approach. Overall it’s not been a particularly banner year so far, of the films I elected as the most exciting for the Menagerie in 2015 Hail Caser was terrible, The Reverent and Midnight Special were fine but not particularly potent, and now this screening which I defiantly enjoyed but am sympathetic to the naysayers complaints of Malick disappearing up his own magic-hour sunset. He shoot his upcoming picture Weightless back-to back with Knight of Cups with some of the same cast, so we shall soon bear witness of this remains the direction of travel. At one point ‘No one cares about reality anymore’ is asserted by one of the degenerate denizens of Hollywood, a fine apropos of our times, but Malick’s sacred saturated solution won’t be for everyone with Knight Of Cups squatting in the minor arcana of his transcendental travelogues;
Well now this is a pleasant surprise, a trailer for a new film from the ever elusive Terry Malick;
A little something lyrical and pensive for a cold December Tuesday, hopefully it will help the spirit soar;
One last post before we hit Sundance, Malick’s latest has recently opened in the States and if you thought he had split critics in Europe then the reaction across the pond has been even more divided. Still, this is good news for us armchair cinephiles as we get some interesting articles for contextual consumption, and a few clips to nourish upon until the film gets a Blu-Ray salutation;
Just revisting these brief fragments has got the brain juices flowing again, I really must see this again if it is still playing in London. Before then though I have a programme of ten movies over the next four days, given the absurdly talented programme manager that I am in the day job (joking) I think I’ve managed to cover all the essentials of the schedule, and even managed to assign a viewing slot of Iron Man 3 in between a breathing space in the afternoon – after all one has to keep appraised of other developments doesn’t one? Did I mention that I got tickets for tomorrows UK premiere of Upstream Colour? No? Oh, well, then let me advise you that I got a ticket to tomorrow nights UK premiere of Upstream Colour. Can’t. Fucking. Wait. Until then, more Malick and wish me luck;
You’ve gotta feel sorry for Michael Sheen and Rachel Weitz. It must quite the highlight of one’s professional experience, to work with one of the most critically lauded directors currently drawing breath, an enigmatic and aloof figure who has shunned all media exposure for over forty years, crafting his hermetically sealed celluloid prayers with his usual troop of technical acolytes only for your entire performance to languish on the cutting room floor. These then are Terrence Malick’s continuing working practices, his productions now moving in relative Lightspeed in comparison to the twenty year hiatus between Days Of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, he following his divisively divine Tree Of Life which blessed cinemas a mere two years ago with another romantic hymn to the spiritual and immortal, the eagerly awaited To The Wonder. After shooting hours and hours of footage Malick finds his film organically in the editing room, a quick scan of the credits revealing that he exhausted no less than five editing artisans with his latest psalm to the mysterious canyons of consciousness, and he is not beyond cruelly jettisoning entire characters and sub-plots if he feels they are superfluous to he and his characters existential wrestling with our shared and more intangible issues. The search for the sacred among the profane continues with To The Wonder and whilst I can murmur along with some of the critical disappointment this is a palpable and pulsing work, in its final conclusions a seraphic companion to The Tree Of Life’s celestial celebrations.
Immolated with a prologue that is intimately cool, with a wispy, grainy iPhone camera footage surreptitiously caught in Paris an initial spell is cast, as American engineer Neil (a horizoned Ben Affleck) plunges into a passionate affair with the spritely and soaring Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a beatific brunette with the soul of an actuating Aphrodite. After touring the ardourous territories of the capital of romance Neil forges a strong bond with Marina and her 10-year-old daughter, committing himself to them the trio are soon decanted back to his home soil, the golden auroral prairies of Oklahoma replacing the urban pectore of Western Europe. Neil becomes distant, aloof, almost a phantom* character in the film, relegated to the sidelines as the story centres upon Marina’s introverted quest, unsure of her new surroundings and resistant to the assertions that their love will flourish in these new natural surroundings. But love is a many splendoured thing, and fissionable fractures soon divide the two as Neil begins to doubt his choices, acknowledging a spark of attraction to his school friend Jane (Rachel McAdams) as Marina finds herself increasingly isolated and banished from affection or endearment. With Javier Bardem as a local priest plaughed with a crisis of faith of his own who offers some small morsels of affection and support to his parishioners To The Wonder is a film of souls in search of sustenance, purposed and grappling with the transient questions that face us all.
Like Marina and Neil’s divisions this film has snaked a fracture line through the critical and academic community, with scholars, scribes and savants assuring us that Malick shouldn’t get a free pass due to his immense and imposing stature on the global cinema stage, it’s a fair point although the claims of his treading water with his latest project or the more withering of dismissals claiming that he has essentially self-parodied himself should rest squarely in the eye of the beholder. Unquestionably the same designs and techniques which are commonly refered to as ‘Malickian’ are on full display – breathless, wispy, inquisitive interior monologues? Check. Sumptuous, transcendent ‘magic hour’ cinematography with radiant streams of nourishing light saturating and bleeding the frame alongside water and liquid sourced iconographies? Double check. A rejection of formal narrative scenes to drive forward a plot through character interaction or expositionary dialogue? Triple check with flashing lights and blaring klaxons. This is the crux of To The Wonder as this is very much an evolution in form, as the visual techniques he has perfected of a fleeting, evasive and swooning beauty has been deeply embedded in a nucleau symbiosis, punting his cinema further out into abstract waters, with mere glimpses, strobed shards of scenes presented within the broader church of his intentions. The film is essentially a two-hour montage of image and sound, freting and fleeting as it interrogates its flickering souls, like a wandering mind caressing the contours of consciousness it ponders the purlieus of a fading dream. Accusations are rife, of a meaningless mosaic of images which on inspection are heretical, there is clearly a pulse and purr of locations and the symbolic cartography visited in one section of the film is shadowed an silhouetted in the next, to excavate one example in an early aria Marina and Neil wander hand in hand through a granite mud shoreline, beaming at their amour despite the gloomy skies. Later in the film Neil is seen trudging through a vacant yet physically similar mud-caked environment back in industrial America, this time alone in a purgatory isolation, his segregation illustrating his sacred contamination. This is film or cinema as a river, buttressed and tumbling down the canyons of meaning and interpretations, its jetties and harbours the ebbs and flow of image and sound.
Malick’s work is infused with love, from the romances of Badlands and Days Of Heaven, from the platonic affection of comrade and community in The Thin Red Line, from the love of family and maternity in Tree Of Life and between the indigenous and alien in The New World. Consider this which just occurred to me, from his film titles alone the semiotics when strung together in any combination evoke his cinema – lands and tree, heaven and world, wonder and days. The marketing for the film is rather misleading as this is clearly Marina’s story with the other characters orbiting her struggles, whilst Bresson arranged his actors or ‘models’ as he called them to pose as hollow vessels Malick arranges his mannequins to stand fertile and be impregnated with our own beliefs and sins, a semblance of performance paying lip service to modern cinema fictions. Characters are internalized, it is never any overt event or relation which seems to steer or alleviate their flickering malaise, Marina is afflicted with a distant ennui rather than any sense of physical, social or cultural isolation with her decant from Northern Europe to the widescreen vistas of North America, and it is fascinating to see Malick’s camera dance and weave through shopping malls and streak past drive-in joints and roadside churches, perhaps another autobiographical element is on display as he lived and studied in France during that twenty year seizure of production before returning to his homeland of Texas where he still resides. I would have liked to have seen more Bardem’s loosely alluded spiritual combat, in one uncertain moment he anoints a (supposedly) death row denizen with the holy scripture but his eyes and movement betray an uncertainity to his empty and remote reassurances, his inclusion redundant to the central ‘plot’ – and this is why the film demands a second viewing. The absence of god is the absence of love, we mortals wandering the blessed earth in wide-eyed reverent wonder, seeking succor in the arms of similarly fallen souls with all our foibles and failures refracted back upon us, thus overall this is another beautiful, nervously moving and entrancing film, although I must admit that I didn’t suffer from as many tear inducing crescendos that his other work has inflicted.
Back to earth with a few technical points and curiosities. I was intrigued to see Malick’s wife credited as the productions ‘Ambassador Of Goodwill’ in the final crawl whatever that may mean, and according to the credits some trademarked material has been lifted from Tree Of Life, whether this was offshoots or the resurrection and reappropriation of half-submerged visual ideas remains to be seen. It does beg a curious question however, that this may well be the second installment in a potential trilogy as it very much feels like a companion piece to the musings and inquisitions of Sean Penn’s character refracted through Marina’s similar spiritual sojourn, and for the first time this is a film in Malick’s universe which is fully set in the present day, a contemporary canticle in relation to the historical framing of his previous psalms, which seems to reverberate with the rumours and glimpses of other future projects. So what is next? Well, the Christian Bale starring project which famously produced a glimpse of the Malick in his natural habitat would appear to be next, it was supposedly shooting back to back with another picture which may be the mysteriously titled Sword Of Cups or that could be an entirely different project, as ever the mystery surrounding his productions will keep the faithful guessing. In the meantime however To The Wonder is a divine picture which proves to difficult to decipher, but like the mysteries of love and life that constant struggle is made more potent and pleasurable when accompanied by such incredible incantations;
* Purely unintentional, but we can’t miss this classic of the newly anointed Oscar Winner….
Well, I have to say that the new Terrence Malick film has certainly crept on me, like a wistful leaf slowly dancing to the ground in an idyllic, sweetly chirping forest – OK, that’s enough of that. A mere two years since his last hymn, since the polarizing Tree Of Life hit cinemas the puritan poet is back with his latest romantic elegy, cruising on an uncertain wave of distinctly polarised reviews after a divisive Venice premiere. I have very little time to put this prologue together and given that I am entertaining guests over the weekend don’t expect an immediate review, but I am seeing the movie tonight and I did want to put some sort of prelude together as this is of course a new film from an essential American talent and one of my all time favourite directors, I’m really looking forward to chanting to his particularly celestial choir of cinema once again. Firstly, here is that idiosyncratic trailer again;
Here’s some rare behind the scenes disclosures on Terry’s filming style, when the hell is that documentary I found a few years ago Rosy Fingered Dawn ever gonna get a commercial release? Now would seem like an apt time, and it’s probably best not to google that title at work – I speak from bitter experience….
I was going to link these but Sky seem to have unsportingly taken the phrase ‘Exclusive’ seriously and I can’t find them elsewhere, I haven’t looked at these ‘behind the scenes’ featurettes nor will I until my review has been crafted, you on the other hand may be an inquisitive or potentially foolhardy sort, although I don’t think that a Malick film generally suffers from potential ‘spoilers’ in the traditional sense. Instead here is an earlier romantic interlude montage which I think may prove as the perfect aperitif for this new offering;
The final scene slays me every time. Finally, for full transcendent context here is one of the better Malick montages that is floating around – hallelujah;