Badlands (1973)

“Badlands” (1973)



Taken as it is, if you know absolutely nothing about this film prior to watching, or if you haven’t seen any of the films Malick did after this, i think nevertheless you’ll find here a fine piece of cinema. This is solid within any measure you consider for such a type of film. A kind of anti-film, an expression of mood instead of story, contemplation instead of reflection. The 70′, in the twilight of the 60′ were ideal for this. This is not about changing the world as much as it is about contemplating it, being in it, or deliberately outside it, while acknowledging it, like the characters in this film. That’s why in the 70′ we had the more truly introspective and deep antonionis, we had mood creation even in the underground stuff of Monte Hellman’s cockfighter. And at this point, we had the unknown Malick, whose background is one of philosophy and not of cinema. He is a thinker more than a filmmaker.

Yet he delivered in his few cinema iterations some of the most profound visual experiences ever. Here he sticks to the mood formula, i guess because this is his first film, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t stretch the chances more than he felt he’d control them. So he delivers a recognizable shape of a film, while pouring in it the juices of what he would master, in later years. The genre is fully hardwired in film goers all over the world, it is a classic in American film. But Malick’s intentions are elsewhere. He’s no Coen, never wanted to be. He doesn’t want to pick a genre and subvert it as much as he wanted to disembody the whole picture. That’s why he chose this story, about to characters fully dropped in the nothing, successively killing all the links to a regular recognizable world. The latent madness justifies what Malick does. And what he does is interlace bits, fragments of countless motifs. Parallel narratives which make no sense to the main narrative (if there’s any) other than just being there.

One of the best compliments i can make to a film and a filmmaker is that he or it are able to place us in a specific more or less possible alternative world. That’s the main goal of film. Malick pushes that goal further. We are never in the film. Instead we float around, uncertain about where or when we are, or more fundamentally, what we are, as viewers, what’s our placement in the narrative.

This film is still pretty raw, we see the intentions (now that we’ve seen what he built after this) and there are bits of the film where we get to that state of undetermined wonder. But this is just a sketch. The man was just starting! New World and Thin red line reached really high. And i suspect the Tree of Life might be as big a step as those 2.

Sissy Spacek, what a film girl, what a look, such self-aware innocence. How good a Lolita she might have been, had she played it.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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