Friday, January 13, 2006


To revisit Terrence Malick's first feature, 'Badlands,' is a thrill, and I only wish I were immediately able to see it again on the big screen. Not just to bask in the quality of the natural light, or to become more absorbed in the filmmaker's (tremendous) trademark microcosmoses-made-macro, but simply to take on the succession of stills, presented in detail, as Sissy Spacek tries out her dead father's stereopticon. In voiceover she muses upon the "vistas" experienced with the device; one image in particular, of a railroad track receding off-center to the horizon, stands in for the whole Malickean metaphysics -- space, time, and their relationship at any given point to the whole of American history. The image is brief, but it's a large one -- deserves to be larger than DVD allows.

Martin Sheen reads someone's discarded late-payment notice lying inside of a trash can. His partner snatches a folded-up magazine from the ground, skims the page. As he chucks it to the garbage-truck, the opening credits appear on-screen: it's our turn. Malick has always shown a wry sense of humor -- and 'Badlands' may be his funniest picture -- but this round-the-table reading exercise reminds us that at least some of his films' intimacy stems from their inclusiveness with regard to the audience. Those shots of beetles aren't called "magnifications," after all; they're "close-ups."

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