- Badlands hinted at the brilliance of Terrence Malick (and for almost every other filmmaker in history it would easily be their finest hour), but Days of Heaven feels like the full realization of a master in complete command of his craft, in only his sophomore effort.
- The high watermark for the term “magic hour” photography and perhaps cinematic photography (exteriors especially) in general. Malick would purposefully shoot almost the entire film at dusk- the best moment for photography. This had to be painstaking to achieve in natural lighting. But the consistency shows—if you collect and look at the individual frames from the film (as I have)- they look like individuals pieces of a whole- a collection for an art exhibition.
- The great Ebert- “Days of Heaven” is above all one of the most beautiful films ever made.” https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-days-of-heaven-1978
- If you only have time to read one thing on Days of Heaven– please skip my page and read Nick Schager’s argument for the film here. It is humbling to read writing like this https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/days-of-heaven/
- “It is, ultimately, nothing more or less than the definitive proof of film’s status as an inherently sensory medium.”https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/days-of-heaven/
- Michael Atkinson – It seems almost incontestably…the most gorgeously photographed film ever made. [23 March 1999]
- Look at the resume of Jack Fisk- he’s the art director here. He’d go on to be the production designer on Mulholland Dr., The New World, There Will Be Blood (so that’s Lynch, PTA and Malick), The Tree of Life, The Master and The Revenant (so add Inarritu to that list)— wow
- Malick used three directors of photography on Badlands– and he essentially does the same here. Haskell Wexler (he says he did most), Néstor Almendros (Oscar win, officially credited) and Malick himself. No offense to Badlands, but the visual triumph here dwarfs Malick’s debut film.
- There is less of a script here than Badlands (apparently Malick threw it out completely and just shot photography for a year as the actors found their characters and improvised), and that’s a trend you’d see continue over Malick’s career. There’s less in-scene dialogue. In fact, in the opening Gere is really miming words at the factory with dubbing.
- The story unfolds like a biblical parable—- the title is taken from Deuteronomy.
- It is hardly worth mentioning- but I do wish Malick gave us one line in the voice over about how Bill (Richard Gere) and Linda (Linda Manz) started out on the east coast. Her voice (and we get a lot of it in the voice-over) is certainly New York- and they are “from” Chicago.
- So much of the action is improvised- small talk, trivialities, playing tag, running, fighting, chasing animals…. these are models in Malick’s world (and what better model than newcomer Richard Gere here in 1978). He, Linda Manz and Sam Shepard are perfect for what Malick wants. He doesn’t want a performance, and rarely captures a long back and forth dialogue scene. The average shot length (ASL) is low. There are montages of the harvest, wheat and the animals. This is as picturesque (set in Texas, shot in Alberta, Canada) as Eden with a sin (perhaps even original sin) as the downfall. It is also the story of the new world and immigrants- different nationalities, races, and accents in the medley of the workers/laborers.
- Brooke Adams’ Abby heals the Shepard character (known only as “the farmer”), language like “I think the devil was on the farm”, “if you’ve been good, you’ll escape the fire”….Gere’s Bill is not a villain. “I got nobody to blame but myself”.
- The film is a breathtaking visual tone poem. Cut up in montage (it took two years for Malick to put it together in the editing room)—wheat waving, grass sprouting up from the earth as Malick captured life in a blissful setting. Dissolves are used often—which is fitting for the lyrical style.
- One of the greatest Morricone scores (which makes it one of finest pieces of music in the 20th century)—it plays like a sad dream. I think it may have had an effect on another one of cinema’s finest- the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score for The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
- I’m not entirely sure why Malick ends the film on the Jackie Shultis’ character- Linda’s friend
- A masterpiece – one of cinema’s most beautiful films. And unfortunately, Days of Heaven is the last word from Terrence Malick for twenty years.
Excellent page, as much as I love Badlands I have to say that Days of Heaven has ascended to my favorite Malick film. Obviously there is no limit to how much that can be said regarding the impeccable beauty and magnificent images here. I love the score and use of natural sounds (crickets, gusts of wind for example) in the film but somewhat ironically I feel that at the same time this could actually work as a silent film (I am glad it is not!). And I mean that as a compliment to Malick, that the images are not only beautiful but so powerful and effective in conveying the story that combined with the quality acting that this could have been a modern day silent film.
@James Trapp- Thank you for the praise on the page. Appreciate that. You are spot on here: “I love the score and use of natural sounds (crickets, gusts of wind for example) in the film but somewhat ironically I feel that at the same time this could actually work as a silent film (I am glad it is not!).”
Some people say The Tree of Life may be the greatest film ever made. Others think it’s religiose and pretentious, high-minded and half-baked pictorialism. I’m in the middle. I think its scenes of childhood are magnificent and unrivalled, and I recall from those first two films how alert and tender Malick has always been to the young imagination. But the deeper it gets into life, the more clearly it reveals that being beautiful in a movie is not enough. The actor Sean Penn seems to have a similar feeling. Once a Malick devotee (he is in The Thin Red Line), Penn believed the script had offered him a real part in The Tree of Life, but the film had turned him into a cipher lost in the sterile beauty of Houston architecture, without a voice or a dramatic role. There is no answer to this just yet, but it assists a rich argument about where the cinema is going, and I think it all began on the gorgeous prairies of Days of Heaven.
@Пётр – noticed this comment, currently doing a Malick study. Sean Penn’s lack of dialogue is not anything personal against Sean Penn, he is simply playing the character largely on physical acting which in some ways is more difficult as his character conveys a great deal of pain and inner turmoil. Also, both The Tree of Life and Days of Heaven use limited dialogue as they rely more on images in telling their story. The Slant article Drake posted above is an excellent analysis on Days of Heaven as it examines Malick’s unique style of filmmaking.
@Graham – great video!