Days of Heaven. This is the third time I’ve seen this, and it still comes across as very strange, very... elliptical. It’s the creation of Terence Malick, whose debut film, Badlands, from 1973, is one of my favorites of the seventies (it does have the edge over Days). Days is much less plot-oriented. The dialogue, while very “right” for the presentation, is almost wholly incidental; other than the voice-overs of our child protagonist, it tells us nothing that the pictures don’t better reveal. That may be a good thing considering the film also stars Richard Gere, who’s not well-known (by me at least) for his brilliant or energetic line readings.
It’s a certain textural beauty Malick goes for, and he well achieves it. Shot after shot fills the screen with ravishing framing, shape, and light; this is vividly expressionistic cinema, mood cinema, and if you’re in the right state of mind, it can be extremely gratifying. It’s a good one for a Sunday morning.
The film basically tells the story of impoverished American migrant workers directly before World War II; the three we see, comprised of Richard Gere, Brooke Adams (his lover, posing as his sister) and the child, receive the mixed blessing of being taken in by a wealthy landowner (Sam Shepard) they’ve been working for. This is due solely to his infatuation with Adams, which of course means a love triangle, but this story is almost background to the vast canvas Malick presents to us. This is definitely not the last time I’ll be watching this one.
Interesting trivia: Linda Manz, who plays the child narrator/protagonist, also appeared, about 20 years later, in Harmony Korine's Gummo as a homicidal (or is she just "playing"?), tap-dancing suburban mom who lost her husband in a devastating tornado.
Then, Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, which I’d watched about three quarters of a couple weeks ago (this ill-planned viewing was interrupted by something so dull as work, and I lost the thread). I finally re-watched it from the beginning all the way through to the end. It’s from 1977, an homage to the punk-rock aesthetic that was sweeping the Isles at the time, depicting a parallel universe apparently set in then-current Britain as seen through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth I, who has asked an angel to show her the future. We follow our very jaded, very nihilistic gang of skinhead girls and celebrity-seekers as they act out anarchy and eventually get subsumed by the evils that control the media, which is to say, in the film’s terms, the world. It’s very episodic and works in riffs on certain themes; it’s obviously an act of sexual, political, and cultural revolt, and it works very well as such. It has slightly more accomplished acting and production values than the early John Waters and Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey films that directly preceded it, but it’s very much of a piece. There’s a slightly melancholy air about it, for all its defiance; Jarman was looking at this punk scene as an outside advocate, and he rather accurately predicts the demise of punk in Jubilee, which possibly explains the negative reaction he got from punk’s self-styled true believers (especially Vivienne Westwood) at the time. It holds up.
Running with Scissors was a breezy trip, despite the very uncomfortable events it recounts. Burroughs plays nearly everything for laughs (it’s much less successful in the rare instance he lets too much pathos creep in). His highly unusual and extremely funny childhood and adolescence are fantastic examples of the pros and cons of a liberated, unstructured postmodern approach to child-rearing (when his already fairly mental parents divorced, he was raised for the most part by his mother’s psychologist and his highly unconventional family). His book gets shelved next to David Sedaris’s as far as the gayness goes; they have enough perspective and honesty to be much more (and much more worthwhile) than “my traumatic gay life” stories. Gay people can be interesting, these books imply, but not merely by dint of their orientation. Which is, as I myself have believed for most of my own gay life, exactly right.
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