Malick, Terrence

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MALICK, Terrence

Nationality: American. Born: Waco, Texas, 30 November 1943. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1966; Oxford University on Rhodes Scholarship; Center for Advanced Film Studies, American Film Institute, 1969. Career: Journalist for Newsweek, Life, and the New Yorker, late 1960s; lecturer in philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1968; directed first feature, Badlands, 1973. Awards: Best Director Awards, National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics, 1978, and Cannes Festival, 1979, for Days of Heaven.Agent: c/o Evarts Ziegler Associates, Inc., 9255 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069, U.S.A.

Films as Director and Screenwriter:


Badlands (+ pr, role as architect)


Days of Heaven


The Thin Red Line (d only)

Other Films:


Lanton Mills (short) (sc)


Pocket Money (Rosenberg) (sc)


The Gravy Train (co-sc, under pseudonym David Whitney)


Deadhead Miles (Zimmerman) (co-sc) (filmed 1970)


By MALICK: articles—

"The Filming of Badlands," an interview with G. R. Cook, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), June 1974.

"Malick on Badlands," an interview with B. Walker, in Sight andSound (London), Spring 1975.

Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), June 1975.

Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), April 1998.

Interview with Michael Henry and others, in Positif (Paris), March 1999.

On MALICK: articles—

Johnson, William, "Badlands," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1974.

Fox, Terry Curtis, "The Last Ray of Light," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1978.

Hodenfield, Chris, "Terrence Malick: Days of Heaven's Image Maker," in Rolling Stone (New York), 16 November 1978.

Combs, Richard, "The Eyes of Texas," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1979.

Maraval, P., "Dossier: Hollywood '79: Terrence Malick," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1979.

Donough, P., "West of Eden: Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Fall 1985.

"Terrence Malick," in Film Dope (London), December 1987.

Vancher, Andrea, "Absence of Malick," in American Film, February 1991.

Wondra, Janet, "A Gaze Unbecoming: Schooling the Child for Femininity in Days of Heaven," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), October 1995.

Tapper, Michael, "Terrence Malick," in Filmhäftet (Stockholm), vol. 27, no. 105, 1999.

MacCabe, Colin, and Geoffrey Macnab, "Bayonets in Paradise/Solider Stories," in Sight and Sound (London), February 1999.

* * *

Though in the first two decades of his career he directed only two feature films, Terrence Malick has received the kind of critical attention normally reserved for more experienced and prolific filmmakers. His career reflects a commitment to quality instead of quantity—an unusual and not always profitable gamble in the film industry.

In 1972, Malick wrote the screenplay for Pocket Money, which starred Paul Newman and Lee Marvin, a film memorable more for character study than story. The following year, Malick made his first feature, Badlands. The film was an amazing debut. Based loosely on the sensational Starkweather-Furgate murder spree, Badlands concerns Kit Carruthers, a twenty-five-year-old James Dean look-alike, and Holly Sargis, his fifteen-year-old girlfriend. After murdering Holly's father, they begin a flight across the northeastern United States, killing five others along the way.

This disturbing and beautiful film is narrated by Holly (Sissy Spacek), who unemotionally describes the couple's actions and feelings. Her partner in crime, Kit (Martin Sheen), is a likeable, unpredictable, and romantic killer who is so confident of his place in American history as a celebrity that he marks the spot where he is arrested, and gives away his possessions as souvenirs to police officers.

Days of Heaven, Malick's long-awaited second feature, was released five years later. The film was critically acclaimed in the United States, and Malick was named best director at the Cannes Film Festival. Days of Heaven is a homage to silent films (the director even includes a glimpse of Chaplin's work), with stunning visual images and little dialogue. Moving very slowly at first, the film's pace gradually accelerates as the tension heightens. Its plot and style elaborate on that of Badlands: the flight of two lovers following a murder, and the use of unemotional narration and off-beat characterizations.

For years Malick then took up residence in Paris, while critics awaited his next project. Some wondered how the director would remain profitable to any studio with his lapses between projects, his aversion to interviews, and his refusal to help in the marketing of his films. Paramount, however, remained confident of Malick's value and continued to send the director scripts plus a yearly stipend. Unlike Welles, whose lack of productivity must be traced in large measure to studio hostility to his methods and work, Malick could not blame anyone but himself for a talent and interests that bore no fruit for almost twenty years.

Malick's inactivity, however, came to a surprising end as the decade and century drew to a close. He revived his career with a brilliant film, arguably among the most cinematic and profound the postwar American cinema has produced. Malick's version of James Jones's The Thin Red Line, written in the 1950s and brought to the screen for the first time in the 1960s, is a moving, poetic meditation on the contradictions of human nature: man's compulsive self-destruction yet hunger for life and love. Released not long after Steven Spielberg's conventional and much acclaimed war story, Saving Private Ryan, Malick's film disappointed those who expected an exultation at American victory in the bitter battle for Guadalcanal (the island goes unnamed in both Jones's novel and Malick's film). Instead, the film is pervaded by a profound sadness at the inalterable fact of organized violence, a sadness transformed into resignation as the main character, a cynical noncomformist, ultimately accepts the hero's burden of self-sacrifice. Like Jones, Malick fragments the narrative, exploring the use of voice-over to identify and deepen subjective experience. Yet the final result is not hard to follow, as Malick demonstrates the same talent for designing compelling narrative that was evident in his early career. The film world can only hope that he does not wait another twenty years before executing yet another cinematic masterpiece.

—Alexa Foreman, updated by R. Barton Palmer