Days of Heaven
DAYS OF HEAVEN
Director: Terrence Malick
Production: O.P. Productions; Metrocolor, 35mm, Dolby sound; running time: 95 minutes. Released 13 September 1978. Filmed on location in the Midwest; cost: $2.5 million.
Producers: Bert and Harold Schneider; executive producer: Jacob Brickman; screenplay: Terrence Malick; photography: Nestor Almendros with additional photography by Haskell Wexler; editor: Billy Weber; sound mixers: George Ronconi, Barry Thomas; special sound effects: James Cox; art director: James Fisk; music: Ennio Morricone and Leo Kottke; special effects: John Thomas and Mel Merrells; costume designer: Patricia Norris.
Cast: Richard Gere (The Brother); Brooke Adams (The Girl); Sam Shepard (The Farm owner); Linda Manz (The Sister); Robert Wilke (The Foreman); Jackie Shultis; Stuart Margolin; Tim Scott; Gene Bell; Doug Kershaw (Fiddle player).
Awards: Oscar for Best Cinematography, 1978; New York Film Critics Award for Best Director, 1978; Cannes Film Festival, Best Director, 1979.
Schreger, C., in Variety (New York), 13 September 1978.
Fox, T. C., in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1978.
Riley, B., "Nestor Almendros Interviewed," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1978.
Films in Review (New York), November 1978.
Insdorf, A., in Take One (Montreal), November 1978.
Hodenfield, Chris, "Terrence Malick: Days of Heaven's Image Maker," in Rolling Stone (New York), 16 November 1978.
Films and Filming (London), December 1978.
Christian Century (Chicago), 3 January 1979.
Schlesinger, Arthur M., "Days of High Seriousness," in Saturday Review (New York), 6 January 1979.
Corliss, Richard, in New York Times, 8 January 1979.
Maraval, P., "Dossier: Hollywood 79—Terrence Malick," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1979.
Combs, Richard, "The Eyes of Texas: Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1979.
Carcassone, P., in Cinématographe (Paris), June 1979.
Coleman, John, in New Statesman (London), 1 June 1979.
Morris, M., in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), September-October 1979.
Alpert, Hollis, "The Rise of Richard Gere," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1979.
Ciment, Michel, and B. Riley, "Le Jardin de Terrence Malick," in Positif (Paris), December 1979.
Pérez Turrent, T., "Dias de Gloria y Badlands: Terrence Malick, nueva personalidad del cine norteamericano," in Cine (Mexico City), March 1980.
Bedoya, R., in Hablemos de Cine (Lima), November 1980.
Donough, M., "West of Eden: Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Fall 1985.
Taubin, A., in Village Voice (New York), 8 June 1993.
Wondra, Janet, "A Gaze Unbecoming: Schooling the Child for Femininity in Days of Heaven," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 16, no. 4, October 1995.
Séquences (Haute-Ville), March/June 1997.
Positif (Paris), March 1999.
* * *
Of Terrence Malick's two feature films to date, Badlands is perhaps the more satisfying, Days of Heaven the more remarkable. Malick's achievement must be seen first and foremost in terms of its opposition to the dominant Hollywood shooting and editing codes of the period. Those codes are centred on the television-derived misuse and overuse of the telephoto (plus zoom) lens, in the interests of speed and economy rather than from any aesthetic interest in its intrinsic properties; this is seconded by the lyrical use of shallow focus and focus-shifts as an instant signifier of "beauty" (flowers in focus in the foreground, out-of-focus lovers in the background, shift focus to the lovers behind a foreground of out-of-focus flowers). Bo Widerberg's use of this in Elvira Madigan (the decisive influence) had a certain authenticity and originality, but it quickly lapsed into automatic cliché. Within such a context the sharp-etched, crystal-clear, depth-of-field images of Malick and his magnificent cameraman, Nestor Almendros, in Days of Heaven assume the status of protest and manifesto. They restore the concept of "beauty" from its contemporary debasement.
There is a further consequence of this—what one might call the resurrection of mise-en-scène, theorized in the 1950s and 1960s as the essential art of film, and seemingly a lost art since. In place of the "one-shot—one point" of the flat, perfunctory images derived from television, Malick suddenly has a frame within which to compose in depth, where every segment of the image potentially signifies. The desire for precision and definition within the image here combines naturally with a most delicate feeling for nuances of emotion and interchange between the characters. Joseph Conrad's description of Henry James as "the historian of fine consciences" comes to mind. Aptly enough; for what is Days of Heaven but a re-working of the subject of James's The Wings of the Dove, with the sexes reversed and the protagonists transposed to the working class?
Given the film's concern with the realities of democratic capitalism—manifest inequality, poverty, class oppression—the "beauty" is a potential problem. Indeed it comes perilously close (especially in its opening sequences) to aestheticizing misery in the manner of, for example, Lean's Doctor Zhivago, where the response "Isn't that terrible?" is completely superseded by "Isn't that beautifully photographed?" The distinction of Days of Heaven lies partly in its careful separation of its sense of beauty from the human misery and tension depicted. The pervasive suggestion is that human existence could correspond to the natural and aesthetic beauty the film celebrates, were it not for the oppressive systems of organization that men [sic] have developed: the film's sense of tragedy is firmly grounded in an awareness of class and gender oppression. As in Heaven's Gate, the woman expresses her ability and freedom to love both men. It is the men who precipitate catastrophe by demanding exclusivity and ownership as their right, and as a means of bolstering their threatened egos.
Badlands explicitly acknowledged, in its final credits, the influence of Arthur Penn; in fact, its relation to Bonnie and Clyde is at once obvious and tenuous, restricted to its subject. Far more important seemed the influence of Godard, especially in Les Carabiniers and Pierrot le fou. The film's counterpointing of verbal narration and image is extremely sophisticated and, in relation to classical Hollywood narrative, audaciously unconventional. Days of Heaven simultaneously modifies and develops this strategy; the verbal narration of Linda Manz represents a less jarring dislocation than the use of Sissy Spacek's diary in the earlier film, but provides a continuous and subtle distancing which contributes significantly to the film's unique flavor, in which irony co-exists with intense involvement.