Watch: An Unsettling Mash-Up of Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of Heaven’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’

Watch: An Unsettling Mash-Up of Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of Heaven’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’

Terrence Malick and Woody Allen would seem to make a rather odd pair, but the reality is that, as this piece by Vince Di Meglio shows, the two have more in common than one might think. Di Meglio has taken the opening voice-over from Malick’s Days of Heaven and spliced it over the opening shots of Manhattan–and then done the reverse, taking Woody Allen’s novel draft stops-and-starts from Manhattan and placing them over the opening scenes from Days of Heaven. And… to be honest… it works quite nicely. The angst-ridden tones of the Malick film complement Allen’s vast, black-and-white Gordon Willis vistas, just as the aspirational tone of the Manhattan voice-over portends the desperation soon to be seething in Days of Heaven, after its opening frames. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the movies were relatively close in release date; their evident sympathetic relationship here could be because they were part of a larger, more romantic zeitgeist than the one we have at present.

Or maybe not.

Watch: How Can Music Shape a War Film?

Watch: How Can Music Shape a War Film?

Just as war is inexplicable, music is inexplicable. We can describe both: one is violent, savage, sometimes needless, uneven; the other operates by relationships between sounds that simply work, remaining in our memory for reasons we can’t pinpoint. It makes sense, then, that music would be important to war films. It’s hard to forget, for instance, the sound of Wagner’s "Ride of the Valkryies" blasting from the helicopters in Apocalypse Now. The tension in the "I don’t know but I been told" marching song in Full Metal Jacket is palpable, especially given what lies ahead of the singing trainees. And the whistling melody from The Bridge Over the River Kwai is a classic–which I once whistled with a small group during summer camp as a child, not realizing the full significance of the tune. This video essay by Ian Magor uses these and other scenes to show us how music can affect the way we
perceive war in movies–and can "allow us to rediscover our humanity."

Watch: Terrence Malick’s Visual Motifs: A Video Homage

Watch: Terrence Malick’s Visual Motifs: A Video Homage

For better or for ill, Terrence Malick is a poet’s filmmaker. It could be argued that to make a film requires that one force a compromise between the desire to tell a story and the need to immerse viewers in the experience they are having, to access their minds on a level that’s not quite describable, the way poems, and also music operate. There’s no "and what happened next" in the way a poem operates–or if there is, it’s a far cry from the same element in a well-told story. Malick is exemplary and distinctive in allowing both impulses to flourish, perhaps more the latter than the former. Malick has never been one to be overly concerned about plot construction. As this excellent and touching tribute by Rachel Glassman shows, great effort here goes into visual meditation: on fields of grain, on the ocean, on the play of light around human figures in a landscape as wide as the souls of the characters inhabiting it. Regardless of what story a film might be telling–whether it’s the story of Texas farmers in Days of Heaven, or desperate criminals in Badlands, or World War II travails in The Thin Red Line, or the story of John Smith in The New World–in Malick’s hands, the work always looks inwards by looking outwards. By showing us the physical world with such precision and also grandness, he also shows us the world within ourselves.

BADLANDS: Terrence Malick’s “early, funny film”

BADLANDS: Terrence Malick’s “early, funny film”


You know, when we showed [Badlands] at the New York Film
Festival—for the very first time—you could just hear a pin drop. No one
laughed. Now when Badlands is
screened, people laugh because . . . I guess our society has changed. But then, I
expected people to laugh at Badlands,
but when they didn’t it was very unnerving. Things were different then.”—Sissy
Spacek in the featurette documentary Making

Terrence Malick’s cinema is pigeonholed as one of artful, beguiling, and obtuse
solemnity, and his most recent film To
The Wonder
will probably do little to change that. But Malick’s 1973 debut Badlands is, thus far, the only film in his oeuvre in which humor is a significant component. Strange, since it’s
a lover-on-the-lam movie about a charming, sociopathic serial killer (Kit, as
played by Martin Sheen) and an affectless, somewhat delusional teenage girl
(Holly, as played by Sissy Spacek) that isn’t exactly an ultraviolent outré
black comedy like Man Bites Dog (1992)
or American Psycho (2000). But low-key,
dry, and absurd humor is a noticeable and well-woven element of Badlands which helps it play well with
contemporary audiences. If it isn’t a black comedy, then it is a singular and
timeless art-house crime drama infused with greyish-brownish comedy.

films usually have a contrapuntal nature, embodied by images,
intrinsically serious, that enhances the films’ themes: the sheer wonder of
the world contrasted with terror, fear and destruction, or a human drama dwarfed by the seeming indifference of nature. These characteristics are
evident in Badlands, but with humor
in the mix, much of which comes from Kit’s unusual behavior and Holly’s voiceover
narration. To those familiar with Malick’s other films but not with Badlands, the idea of a Malick film
being funny might seem odd. But considering that humor
generally depends on contrast or contradiction, to me it’s surprising
that Malick has yet to make another partly or completely comedic film. (Considering that Malick is reportedly a big fan of Zoolander, it seems that he still likes to laugh, even if the
majority of his directorial work doesn’t indicate that.)


In Badlands, Kit says odd, tangential things like “I’ll give you a
dollar if you eat this collie” to a coworker when he finds a dead dog. He also
has a capricious collecting habit; for instance, after he deflowers Holly in
the outdoors, he carries a souvenir rock to commemorate the event, but, after
observing its heaviness, he throws it away and gets a smaller stone. And
throughout the movie Kit alternates between James Dean coolness and erratic
compulsion, making him charismatic and unnerving in equal amounts. “It
takes all types,” Kit often says, and his type is the sometime-murderous,
strangely comical Manic Pixie Dream Boy who does things like preening his hair
in the car’s rearview mirror while being pursued by law enforcers. He’s a
sociopath who can make you laugh.

In the
film, Holly’s toneless, diary-esque voiceover narration augments the
story and provides insight into the minds of Kit and Holly, but there are also a
number of moments in the narration that are humorous. At one point, while Kit is trying to
catch fish in a river as Holly looks on, she narrates the scene like so: “We
had our bad moments, like any couple. Kit accused me of only being along for
the ride, while at times I wished he’d fall in the river and drown so I could
watch.” At another point, as Kit and Holly’s stolen getaway car drives across a
barren landscape, Holly narrates, ““Kit told me to enjoy the scenery and I
did.” There is a deft quality to these remarks, and they’re only made funnier
by Spacek’s naïve and deadpan delivery. The comments also lend pathos and likeability
to Holly, a character who could have easily become an irredeemable, underdeveloped
cypher in the hands of a less imaginative writer and director.

Another comical aspect of Badlands is its ironic plot. For
instance, after Kit murders Holly’s father (Warren Oates) and immolates his
body along with Holly’s home, do Kit and Holly hideout in a cabin or hotel room,
or a crony’s place, like wanted criminals have done in so many crime movies?
No—they go off and live a “domesticated,” Swiss
Family Robinson
existence in the woods. And later, when Kit flees from the
authorities alone in his car, does he run for long? Nope—he stops, builds a
preemptive monument to his surrender by piling rocks on the side of the road and
gives himself over to the cops, peacefully. Then Kit manages to charm his
captors and holds court amongst law enforcers and armed soldiers in an airport
hangar before being taken to jail. And if the story’s resolution isn’t quite a
social commentary, it is an ironic acknowledgement of a truth: frequently,
sociopathic individuals or characters become celebrated standouts in our culture.
(Don Draper, anyone?)


Distinguishable filmmakers tend
to have stylistic quirks earlier in their career that go missing from
their later works. Along with Badlands,
the screenplays that Malick wrote or co-wrote for Pocket Money (1972), Deadhead
(1973), and The Gravy Train
(1974, aka The Dion Brothers) show
that he was once a filmmaker who integrated a type of comedy into his work similar to the humor of writers Flannery
O’Connor or Walker Percy. Also,
the early to mid 70s was a period in American cinema in which many
up-and-coming filmmakers were making idiosyncratic, off-the-wall movies influenced by the European Art Cinema of the 60s as well as countercultural
tastes and sensibilities. The artistic inclinations of Malick’s younger self
seem to have been amenable to that trend. Consequently, Badlands is symptomatic of the New Hollywood zeitgeist.

Malick must follow his muse, which
probably involves making more films that are grand, serious and abstract, but I
can’t help but wonder what it would be like if he made something akin to Badlands that generated laughs from
viewers while being enigmatic and impressionistic, and maybe with someone like
Bill Murray. To echo Oscar Wilde, life is too important to be taken so seriously,
and I hope that a talented filmmaker like Malick who is interested in the
bigger questions will once again recognize that sentiment in one of his movies.
Or, he could at least make a cameo in Zoolander
like he made a cameo in Badlands.

degrees in Film and Digital Media studies and Moving Image Archive
Studies, Lincoln Flynn lives in Los Angeles and writes about film on a sporadic
basis at His Twitter handle is @Lincoln_Flynn.

The Venice International Film Festival reviews are in. Viva Italia!

The Venice International Film Festival reviews are in. Viva Italia!


EDITOR'S NOTE: Writer Tommaso Tocci is covering the Venice International Film Festival for Press Play this year and so we have created this landing page which collects all of those links together. Here they are.




A movement from the universal to the particular: that’s what Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder feels like, a year after The Tree of Life. The short period of time that elapsed between the two films—unprecedented in the director’s career—suggests they have much more in common than any of his earlier efforts. Ironically, The Tree of Life's all-encompassing perspective on human relationships, faith and the universe itself could have indicated that the film was a final statement in his career or in his life. Instead, what looked like the end was just another beginning—as so often happens in Malick’s stories—and the guy who once let twenty years pass between his second and third movie is now back on our screens mere months after his fifth movie.

This time the focus is quite different. Set in the present, this story follows the relationship between Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). Neil falls in love with Marina when he is visiting Paris; he subsequently brings her and her daughter to the United States, to live with him in Oklahoma. With little dialogue and the familiar depiction of fleeting moments, voice-overs and natural exploration, the growth and decay of the romance live in the space between each image on screen. We learn that Neil’s feelings are sincere, but somehow his hesitancy prevents him from fully committing to anything in his life. We find out that Marina has her own doubts, that she wants “to be a wife” but is also scarred by a dark past and confused by Neil’s reluctance. Less actually happens here than in other Malick movies, but at the same time this is the purest investigation of love in the director’s career. Two things happen as a result of that investigation.

The first is that we see an amplified emphasis on life in the present moment. Not in the chronological sense, although that has been a factor in Malick’s previous settings, but rather as an enhanced perception of time passing by rapidly, closing doors and making unalterable truths from ambiguity. The Tree of Life grounded its burning questions in the probing of the past, placing a family’s struggle in the context of a millennial journey. To the Wonder has no such frame to wrestle with. “You thought we had forever, that time didn’t exist,” Marina says to Neil at one point. Immediacy is a joy, and a killer. This is the stuff every love relationship is made of, but the Malick treatment—undisturbed by other narrative elements—makes it all the more painful.

The second thing that happens is that a menacing dread looms over the characters. Lead and cadmium poison the earth in Oklahoma. The tide is rising in Mont Saint-Michel. Emmanuel Lubezki’s versatile cinematography can show us numerous scenes, from Tree of Life’s sunny yards to the lunar-surface grayness of this movie. Rarely in Malick’s films has there been an objective correlative like this one. He usually prefers to throw everything together, with no separation to solidify a theme, letting emotion rise from spontaneous contrast. This method is still present here, but it’s joined by a more direct connotation. Not all things are shining, now.

The nature of Affleck and Kurylenko’s romance is reflected in the character of Javier Bardem’s wandering priest – a doubtful soul who’s supposed to comfort others and yet must also acknowledge his unsteady faith. He serves as a link between the lovers' struggle and the more literal spirituality of Malick’s world view—once again, signalling a clear separation of the film's components. Rachel McAdams appears as Neil’s ex-girlfriend, recalling at first Christian Bale’s turn in The New World: filling a void with grace and dignity. Marina is not John Smith, though. She comes and goes, unable to reconcile the two impulses she contains within herself, almost like two different women. One is “full of love” for him; the other “pulls her down towards the earth”.     

Here in Venice, where the film screened in Competition, many are already saying that To the Wonder is just a patchwork of leftovers from The Tree of Life, and that’s harsh, even despite the end-credits confirmation that footage from Malick’s previous film has in fact been used. In a broader, less derogatory sense, these criticisms might also be true. This film feels like a smaller island in the Malick archipelago, more fragmented and full of things we’ve seen before, but also highly permeable and interconnected with the others, almost in dialogue with them. Several actors were cut completely from the finished version of the film, as usual (Rachel Weisz and Jessica Chastain among them), and just as we can imagine their characters alive somewhere in this universe, asking questions to the sky, we can view To The Wonder’s closeness to The Tree of Life as a seamless, frictionless proximity.  

Tommaso Tocci is an Italian film critic, copywriter and translator. Follow him on Twitter.

OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the race for Best Director and Cinematography

OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the race for Best Director and Cinematography

null[EDITOR'S NOTE: The end is rapidly approaching and Sarah D. Bunting of is ready to call the races for Best Director and Best Cinematography. She has very nearly watched every single film nominated for an Oscar this year. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here. ]

Perhaps I should have given each of these categories its own piece, but I don't think you can separate them, and also, we're running out of time here. Let's take cinematography first.

nullI think any of the nominees has a solid argument, in theory: The Artist for its unusual film format (okay, that's kind of a reach), Dragon Tattoo for the palpable cold and consistent blue palette, Hugo for the dreamlike design and extra credit for 3D, War Horse for that saturated look and a handful of gorgeously orchestrated shots. But this one belongs to The Tree of Life (and this alone). And rightly so.

I don't see anyone on the list who doesn't belong, although The Artist's nom is kind of cheap, but I'd have liked to see Tinker Tailor get some photography/art recognition. You could practically smell the Soviet tobacco, even watching it on a screener.

Should win: The Tree of Life

Will win: The Tree of Life

nullBest Directing is a more difficult call, at least for me, because the tendency is to both praise and blame the director for anything and everything, even if we have no real information on what s/he could control inside the production. On the plus side, we really only have to consider three of the five directors on the list. Payne will win elsewhere for The Descendants, but I didn't see him doing anything above and beyond with the structure or the look of the story. Woody Allen could direct this picture in his sleep — and may have, with The Purple Rose of Manhattan tucked under his pillow. It's The Artist, Hugo, and The Tree of Life.

I can't say whether it's more challenging to direct actors with no audible dialogue. Hazanavicius may get extra credit for that, and various other quirks of the production. Again, that's rewarding the concept, not the execution, and I liked the execution well enough — but Hugo's is, well, harder, and as I've said elsewhere, the results are more universally appealing. The Tree of Life…I can see the argument. It's very ambitious, it gets good performances (out of children as well), it's gorgeous, and the issues I had with it are probably at the script/editing levels. But you can say the same things about Hugo, without as many problems. But I would watch TToL again, and I don't think I would "need" to revisit Hugo. So, as always, it depends on what we think should be rewarded here. I'd be very surprised if Malick won, but encouraged at the same time.

Woody Allen shouldn't have made this list, nor Payne — not if they're taking a spot from David Fincher, Asghar Farhadi, or another director who wasn't so by-numbers.

Should win: Hugo

Will win: The Artist

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine,, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.comFor more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.



null[EDITOR'S NOTE: The end is rapidly approaching and Sarah D. Bunting of is down to the categories for Live Action Shorts and Documentary Shorts.  She has very nearly watched every single film nominated for an Oscar this year. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]

Is it fair to review a work that functions, as Roger Ebert said in his piece on The Tree of Life, as more of a prayer than a story? Can we measure this intensely personal, individual film with traditional yardsticks?

nullI believe it is; I believe we can. Some of the positive reviews of The Tree of Life seem defensive to the point of stridency, meeting charges of "but there's no narrative!" with a carpet-bombing of superlatives, and implying between salvos that such an unconventional and daring form of filmic storytelling has no use for bourgeois adjectives like "linear" and "coherent." Well…actually, on the one hand, I agree, in the sense that Malick has his ways of doing things and thinking about stories and connecting (or shuffling) dots, and that peculiar Malickian blend of compulsive control and sticky viscera either hits you or it doesn't, so no review per se is going to change your mind.

But on the other hand, it's possible to understand how Malick operates, to be tolerant of the occasional sweaty lapses into sophomore workshop, to respect — revere — his unique sequencing and wait with hands folded for him to arrive inside your head, to say "oy, always with the leaves," but fondly, as you would about a nutty relative…and to think, still, that The Tree of Life doesn't work.

And that's where I'm at with it. I love Malick, he has the heart of a lion to try the shit he does and never hide, but: The Tree of Life fell flat for me. I didn't hate it; I adored parts of it, and got teary, and it is stunning visually. Nobody else can transport you back to the dusks of your youth like Malick.

nullThis felt forced, though — out of sync, like a hitter in a slump who swings too hard or too late. The whispered voice-overs do reflect the things some of us say to God, but "realistic" doesn't necessarily mean "interesting," and the murmurs become redundant after a while, then almost parodic. Ditto the gazillion scenes of the kids playing, and/or their mother (Jessica Chastain) providing a safe Rockwellian haven from the cardboard abusiveness of O'Brien Sr. (Brad Pitt); it's not the repetition itself, really, but the pacing, which occasionally felt like a screensaver designed by a joint coalition of Scientific American and Betty Friedan.

The acting is very good, given that the company doesn't get much to play aside from poignant gazing. I don't know how you'd begin to direct a kid in the young-Jack role, but Hunter McCracken is a keeper. Pitt is fantastic again, illustrating the divide between the man he thinks he is and the man his sons see — and that he knows that divide is there.

It isn't a disaster, but it never quite gets going, never quite attains that chant feeling I think Ebert is talking about that you get in other Malick works. Yes, it's self-indulgent, but that can work for this artist; here, it works against him (the regrettable megachurch-y foolishness of the ending is one example). I don't think anyone's wrong to love TToL, I agree that it's audacious and so on, but a noble failure is still a failure.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine,, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.comFor more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.



[EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play presents "Should Win," a series of video essays advocating winners in seven Academy Awards categories: supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director and best picture. These are consensus choices hashed out by a pool of Press Play contributors. Follow along HERE as Press Play decides the rest of the major categories including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting ActressBest Supporting Actor and Best Documentary. Important notice: Press Play is aware that our videos can not be played on Apple mobile devices. We are, therefore, making this and every video in this series available on Vimeo for these Press Play readers. If you own an Apple mobile device, click here.]


All of the 2011 Best Picture nominees have their merits, but one towers above the rest: The Tree of Life, writer/director Terrence Malick's film about…well what is The Tree of Life about, anyway? For a free-associative non-linear movie that skips back and forth through time and space, and that includes a lengthy early section recounting the creation of the universe, the movie was a surprising commercial success, dominating discussion among cinephiles throughout a summer moviegoing season that is usually overshadowed by much louder, dumber movies. And at the center of the discussion were very basic questions about writing and direction – about storytelling generally – that cut to the heart of what movies are and what they can be.

nullIt's impossible to discuss the movie without posing a number of questions. Whose story are we seeing here? Is it the story of the middle-aged Jack, played by Sean Penn, and his younger self? That point of view would not account for the voiceovers and subjective sequences told from the point of view of the father, played by Brad Pitt, and the mother, played by Jessica Chastain. Is the creation sequence an integral part of the movie's vision or an unnecessary and indulgent side-trip? In the scene between the wounded dinosaur and the predator down by that prehistoric river, why does the predator seem as though he's going to crush his skull, and then suddenly back off? Are we seeing the first stirrings of the schism that is discussed and visualized in different sections of the film – the way of nature versus the way of grace? Or is there some other explanation? Is there a God in Terrence Malick's universe? The repeated shots of trees, water, clouds, sky and figures haloed or backlit by intense, almost heavenly light would seem to indicate that, yes, there is a God, but uncertainty permeates the entire story, if indeed there is a story – and this, too, was the subject of debate.

No other major American release provoked so many questions about the meaning of its images and situations, the agenda of its writer/director and the validity of its methods. And no other American release provoked such intense, personal reactions – such deep reflection – among people who saw it. Even those who didn't particularly care for Tree of Life or who had serious problems with its structure or tone seemed to respect what it was doing or trying to do. And the unusual rhythms of the filmmaking, at once fractured yet graceful, seemed to mimic the structure of thought itself. The mind races forward, the mind races backward; past becomes present, present becomes past. This is what it means to be conscious, to be alive. This is what it means to be aware of one's own mortality. These are the sensations that movies should provoke. This is the sort of reflection that movies should inspire. This is the achievement of Tree of Life. It is an original, beautiful, unique movie by a defiantly individual director, and Press Play's choice for Best Picture.

Serena Bramble is a rookie film editor and publisher of the blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind. Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for and the founder of Press Play.

TRAILER: Terrence Malick’s TREE OF LULZ (Hey, it could have happened. . .)

TRAILER: Terrence Malick’s TREE OF LULZ (Hey, it could have happened. . .)

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!

Maud Muller, by John Greenleaf Whittier

 Annals of film history are filled with masterpieces that never were.  Cineastes spend many a sleepless night thinking of Stanley Kubrick’s unproduced epic on Napoleon’s life.  Film historians still search every nook and cranny to possibly locate Orson Welles’ first cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. Then there is the original script for John Huston’s Freud: The Secret passion that a little known philosopher by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre wrote; and Aldous Huxley’s Alice and the Mysterious Mr. Carroll, which was an amalgam of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and the biography of Lewis Carroll, of which Walt Disney said: “[The script] was so literary I could understand only every third word.” There are many, many more, and probably none of these intriguing projects will ever get to see the light of day.

But don’t despair, gentle reader.  As a late Christmas present, PressPlay is proud to offer you a glimpse of another masterpiece that could have been.  Drown your cinephile sorrows in this.

— Ali Arikan

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of Fandor, a new video on demand website featuring the best of independent and international films. He is also a film critic and award-winning filmmaker. In addition to editing Keyframe, Kevin contributes to film publications and produces online video essays. Ali Arikan is the chief film critic of Dipnot TV, a Turkish news portal and iPad magazine, and one of Roger Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents. Ali is also a regular contributor to The House Next Door, Slant Magazine’s official blog.