DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978)


Randwick Ritz, Sydney:

12:00 PM, Friday
May 03

06:00PM, Saturday
May 04

8:15PM, Monday
May 06

Lido Cinemas, Melbourne:

06:00PM, Saturday
May 11 

10:30AM, Monday
May 13

Rating: M
Duration: 91 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz
Director: Terrence Malick

SYDNEY TICKETS ⟶

MELBOURNE TICKETS ⟶
4K RESTORATION – AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE

Simply one of the most ravishing films ever made, luminous in a way no other movie has been.” - London Evening Standard

Malick’s masterpiece is one of the most original, complex films in the contemporary cinema.” - Michel Ciment, Positif

In 1915, migrant workers Bill (Richard Gere), Abby (Brooke Adams) and Linda (Linda Manz) take jobs working for a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard) during a wheat harvest in the Texan Panhandle. Lovers Bill and Abby pretend to be brother and sister so that Abby can marry the terminally ill farmer and inherit his fortune. Most of the film was shot during the Golden Hour, the brief time after sunrise and before sunset, so revered by cinematographers. The result earned Nestor Almendros an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and is regarded as one of the most beautiful films ever made. Terrence Malick was awarded Best Director at Cannes. Cinema Reborn presents the Australian premiere of the 4K Ultra High Definition restoration.

Introduced by Lynden Barber at Ritz Cinemas and Jake Wilson at Lido Cinemas.

Alongside the unforgettable cinematography, sits Ennio Morricone’s soulful, aching score. It is impeccably in tune with Malick’s vision and is among some of the late composer’s most timeless work.” - Keith Garlington

One of the greatest cinematic achievements of the 1970s.” - Variety

So beautiful that it touches heaven itself.” - Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle

It is the closest to poetry in motion that I have ever seen.” - Andrew Ross, Salon.com



FILM NOTES

TERRENCE MALICK
By Helen Goritsas
An enigmatic, visionary filmmaker, Terrence Malick was born in 1943 in Ottawa, Illinois, USA, but moved at a young age to Oklahoma. The experience of growing up in rural Oklahoma, attending school in Austin, Texas, and working as a farmhand in small local communities and on oil fields, in the harsh landscapes of the American South and Midwest, had a profound impact on his film aesthetic.

Notwithstanding his agricultural upbringing and humble circumstances, Malick graduated in 1965 with a degree in philosophy from Harvard University. Upon the successful completion of his studies, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford's Magdalen College. Due to a disagreement with his supervisor, Malick departed Oxford without completing his dissertation. Malick’s deeply rooted academic interest in philosophy, especially in the phenomenological philosophy of Martin Heidegger, has permeated his intellectual development and profoundly influenced the narrative and thematic concerns of his cinematic works.

Transitioning from philosophy to the study of film, Malick returned to the United States and worked for a year as a philosophy lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), while also enrolling in a Masters of Fine Arts degree in film-making. Malick finally graduated in 1969 from one of the foremost film schools in the US, the American Film Institute Conservatory (AFI) at a time when American filmmaking was changing significantly with the rise of New Hollywood.

Marking the commencement of Malick’s filmmaking career was his Masters short film, produced at AFI, the comedy western Lanton Mills (1969), starring Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton. Malick then moved to Hollywood to hone his film craft and finance his own film projects. A talented writer, he worked on the screenplays of films such as Dirty Harry (1971), Deadhead Miles (1972) and Pocket Money (1972).

It was, however, Malick’s directorial debut Badlands (1973) – a film that he both wrote and directed on a shoestring budget, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek playing two young outlaws in the Dakotas – that heralded a breakthrough in his film career. The film was based on the true story of the infamous Starkweather-Fugate killing spree from the 1950s. A profound meditation on the American psyche, Badlands received critical acclaim, establishing Malick as a visionary auteur with a distinctive narrative voice of visual beauty, philosophical and lyrical depth.

Five years later, Malick returned with Days of Heaven (1978), a visually arresting examination of agrarian labourers in the Texas Panhandle, featuring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard and Linda Manz. The film – an exploration of human existence against a vast natural American landscape – was hailed for its exquisite cinematography, artistic sensibility and introspective tone. Deeply influenced by his philosophical background, Days of Heaven established Malick as a unique storyteller in American cinema. He received the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival and the film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for its visually poetic imagery.

Following the success of Days of Heaven, Malick retreated to Paris under a self-imposed absence from filmmaking which lasted nearly two decades. He rarely made public appearances or took interviews and this period of prolonged hiatus only served to augment his enigmatic reputation. Malick finally re-emerged with the war masterpiece, The Thin Red Line (1998), a philosophical exploration of the existential dilemmas of war, based loosely on the 1962 autobiographical novel by James Jones about the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Thin Red Line won critical acclaim, earning the Golden Bear at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival and seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, for Malick.

Malick continued his filmmaking career, with The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), To The Wonder (2012), Knight of Cups (2015), Voyage of Time (2016), Song to Song (2017) and A Hidden Life (2019). All of these films reflect his persistent thematic interest in our relationship with time, memory, and the natural world. The Tree of Life in particular, with its study of cosmic and existential motifs, explored this subject matter elegantly and garnered the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 64th Cannes Film Festival and three Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

Terrence Malick is one of the most respected directors of his generation; his oeuvre offers audiences a profoundly philosophical discourse on life itself. The visual poetry of Malick’s images and his poetic reflections continue to mesmerise viewers with a sense of wonder. A testament to Malick’s visionary talent, these aesthetically transcendent films have secured him a place in the film canon and continue to inspire and influence cinema today.
THE FILM
By Anne Rutherford

A pulse beats all the way through Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. At the climax of the film, the pulse starts in the wind, rears into the foreground with the beating of a wind-cock, the volume ratcheted up so that it wrenches the sound out of any naturalistic frame and into the beat of intensity, passes it across to a heartbeat, amplified in an aural close-up, ripples it across a field of wheat swirling in the wind, across a clutter of ducks pecking frantically at locusts and shimmies it down the manes of a group of bucking horses. An apparent lull takes the pulse in to a close-up of a locust, but everything is wrong as the locust is inside, in the domestic space, poised on a cabbage, and this locust becomes many locusts in a frenzy of swatting that lurches back outside into the confusion of locusts jumping every which way and the chaotic milling of workers as they run in every direction, arms flailing blankets in the wheat in the attempt to ward off the plague. When the pulse passes the baton to human figures they have no priority, their gestures simply another chaotic kinetic energy. Sporadic fragments of dialogue break through the cacophony and recede again, drowned out by the clanging of harvesters as if they are mere peripheral flourishes in a musical phrasing. The film leaps from panorama to extreme close-up – from fields of wheat to a locust in close-up chewing its way mechanically, inexorably through a grain of wheat – and back out to the fields. As the pulse swells to an operatic crescendo, the fields are set alight, swarms of locusts churn in silhouette with the black billowing smoke that swirls with spewing sparks and flames through the darkened sky, and machines and horses run out of control as humans and nature run amok. The blackened stubble that is left as the chaos burns itself out is set against the red glow of a smouldering line of fire that cleaves the horizon.

In Days of Heaven it is not so much the narrative that moves but the intensity that is transported across the different registers of the film. When the agitation of the wind transmutes into locusts, ducks and flames, it’s like one impulse breaking out across multiple sites. The pulse that drives the film at times recedes into the background with the more prosaic narrative sequences, but rears back into the foreground as soon as the film has dispensed with the necessary linear segments. Sound figures prominently here. Each time the pulse surges forward it is cued in by sound – the mechanical beating, clanging of industrial machinery, the sudden amplification of bird sounds, the wind-cock that is always churning in the background – whipping, beating, pulsing, the jumpiness waiting to break out.

On one level Days of Heaven subscribes to many of the conventional plot tropes of melodrama – the focus on emotional relationships among a small family group, a triangular love situation, a series of missed encounters, glimpses of redemption that arrive too late for consummation, a tragic ending, the epic archetypal dimension of hidden values emerging through the events of daily life. But the more linear, quotidian segments of narrative that focus on the interpersonal interactions in the classic manner of family melodrama are only fragments of the whole, just one element in the ensemble that is dropped in only where necessary. Malick gives us just enough to know what is going on – no more. The film is not weighed down by the demands of a linear narrative structure, plodding, weighty, predictable. Narrative threads briefly come together as the elements coalesce into elliptical moments, and are then dispersed again, deflected across the registers of the film. Narrative is less like an anchor than like driftwood that occasionally hits the bank, snags in a branch, swirls around in an eddy before it takes off on another current. When the voice-over comes in, it’s often cut in to the rhythm of Ennio Morricone’s score like a vocal accompaniment, more like a parallel thread than an explanation. On the level of character, the staging of the melodrama is restrained, pared back; nothing is laboured. The intensity is not in the characters, it is in the sensory density that’s splayed across the whole environment; the plot structures of impossibility and thwarted love are a framework for this orchestration of operatic intensities. The final showdown of death and grief-stricken wailing cuts to a long shot of people watching impassively on a river bank, to a group of mounted police, and then dissolves into the moving keys and up-beat music of a pianola, segueing seamlessly, economically, into the next sequence in another time, another place. The narrative slips away at the end of the film as easily as it came together and as elliptically as it moves from scene to scene and within each scene – just one inconclusive fragment – a dot on the landscape of the poverty, exploitation and aspiration of the 1916 Texas Panhandle.

How to capture what it is that is so amazing about this film? It’s partly about choreography – the way Malick choreographs, orchestrates every element of sound and image with consummate skill. It is also about the way a moment is articulated: how a moment comes alive for the viewer. In Days of Heaven this is largely about structure. The film moves not by linear causality but by details, by fragments of sound and image that lodge themselves under the skin as moments of sensory-affective intensity. The film inverts what are normally understood as the hierarchies between narrative progression and this register of embodied experience. Rather than these intensities being deployed in the service of the narrative, the inverse is true – sensory-affective moments are the film, they are the stuff through which the film unfolds.

Malick works with a radical conception of what narrative is – what its place is and how it progresses – that turns conventional understandings of narrative on their heads and exposes how clunky and archaic they are in their conception and realisation. Jean-Louis Comolli, writing of John Cassavetes’ film, Faces, claims that ‘the characters in Faces […] are not […] put there once and for all, arbitrarily, at the beginning of the film; rather, they define themselves gesture by gesture and word by word as the film proceeds’.(1) Malick seems to work from a similar principle of how to build a scene moment-by-moment, but this understanding is extended beyond simply the gestures and words of actors; the actors form only one fragment of the performative dimensions of the scene. It proceeds, rather, through a series of intense encounters with sound and image, moments of experience that accumulate layer upon layer to build the film. It is this accretion that carries the ongoing movement through the narrative field. The film works from a structural principle that is conceived from the outset, not on the basis of the linear chains of cause and effect conventionally understood as the building blocks of narrative, but on the basis of sensory intensity – how to put together a scene that unfolds, moment-by-moment, as an energetic charge that cycles across the sensorium of the viewer.

This structure moves like a score across a number of instruments: at times the plot has its solo moments, only fragmentary. At times the sound is the virtuoso performer, as it takes off in a montage of aural perspectives and layers. At times the image takes centre-stage as Malick plays with the way the wind animates the environment, giving it a haptic density, stirring up the fields, scraping and corroding the smooth surface of a pond, or with the texture of sheaves of wheat flailing into the lens of the camera or the lush painterliness of the pastoral landscape. At times narrative transitions are articulated through other solos – more conventional performative moments, such as a tap dancer showing his skill and a violinist playing. Almost in the manner of a Bollywood song and dance sequence, these key narrative turning points are given an energetic charge that breaks out through the carnivalesque energy of the performances, in lieu of any blow-by-blow detailed plot information.

At the climax of the film, this energetic charge is focused on the locusts. This intensity is not about emotion: how can you claim an emotional response to the texture of the segmented exoskeleton of a locust, the lateral position of its eyes, the angle of its elbows as it grasps a grain of wheat and the relentless mechanical motion of its mandibles as its chews? It is more about the way the motion, texture and sound stir up the viewer, hook them into the moment on a level of heightened embodied awareness, out of the habitual, into the senses, into the materiality of the image. It is a sensory-affective encounter. Whereas conventional melodrama is often described as the orchestration of emotion, Days of Heaven works rather with the orchestration of this material pulse, often sidestepping a conventional emotional series and registering the feeling of the moment through the senses.

Malick works with dramatic shifts in scale – from an extreme close-up of wheat stalks to an extreme wide shot of the horizon, from a long shot of harvesters slashing the crop to a close-up of birds scattering, in a sudden flip from the human scale to the other life that lurks underneath. He uses the aural and visual close-up to bring forward another dimension: the wind is always there but it suddenly breaks out into the aural foreground; the rabbits are there lurking in the wheat field but they suddenly come forward into a tremulous hypervigilant presence. The close-up is like an exclamation mark, like a deflection onto a gestural moment of intensity.

The separation of human and natural world is at best partial, transitory; the dramatic action co-exists on the plane of the animals and the environment as if the human world is punctuated by or filtered through it. Birds recur at almost every transitional moment, responding to and commenting on the dramatic action. Human figures in the landscape are often on a par with animals, obscured by or blending into the wheat. The black and white speckles on the breasts of the peahens are echoed in the costumes of the main characters. Malick is a master of affective wind – a haptic register that captures everything in its sway, subjecting everything to the same restless energy – human figures, animals, fields. These moments are not entirely disconnected from the narrative dimension – Malick plays with the narrative expectations. On one level the scattering birds take on the intensity of human interactions, but the deployment of the natural world in the film is much more than a simple anthropomorphic gesture. At one point the pulse passes momentarily from the linear dramatic action – a domestic scene – to a leaf in close-up glistening wet in the moonlight, and then back to the action. The momentary suspension of the leaf, poised between two actions, is a certain way of hooking the spectator in to a register of intensity that is not explained. The leaf is not given an emotional coding, it is given a material presence.

Siegfried Kracauer attempts to explain a particular type of film experience, in which film ‘puts the material world into play’. (2) He says that the image speaks: ‘And I? says the leaf which is falling. And we? say the orange peel, the gust of wind …’. (3) Kracauer gives us a key to understand how Malick does what he does: a way of working that starts from the materiality of the image and sound to generate a particular kind of film experience, to engage the spectator in a fully embodied affective encounter.

Excerpt from Anne Rutherford, ‘What Makes a Film Tick?’: Cinematic Affect, Materiality and Mimetic Innervation. Bern: Peter Lang, 2011.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


Notes
  1. Sylvie Pierre and Jean-Louis Comolli. ‘Two Faces of Faces.’ In Jim Hillier (ed.), Cahiers du Cinéma: Volume 2. The 1960s: New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evaluating Hollywood. London: Routledge & Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1986: 326.
  2. Hansen, Miriam Bratu. ‘“With Skin and Hair”: Kracauer’s Theory of Film, Marseille 1940.’ Critical Inquiry 19 (Spring 1993): 457.
  3. Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997: 45.

THE RESTORATION
Restored by The Criterion Collection with support of Paramount Pictures and Park Circus.

Director: Terrence Malick; Production Company Paramount; Producers: Bert Schneider, Harold Schneider; Script: Terrence Malick; Photography: Nestor Almendros; Editor: Billy Weber; Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Robert Gould; Sound: Michael Galloway, Colin Mouat, John Reitz, George Roconi; Music: Ennio Morricone; Costumes: Patricia Norris.

Cast: Richard Gere (Bill), Brooke Adams (Abby), Sam Shepard (The Farmer), Linda Manz (Linda), Robert Wilke (The Farm Foreman).

USA| 1978 | 94 mins | 4K DCP | Colour | English | M


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