409 Days of Heaven

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Matt
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409 Days of Heaven

#1 Post by Matt » Thu Oct 12, 2006 5:07 pm

Days of Heaven

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One-of-a-kind filmmaker-philosopher Terrence Malick has created some of the most visually arresting movies of the twentieth century, and his glorious period tragedy Days of Heaven, featuring Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros, stands out among them. In 1910, a Chicago steel worker (Richard Gere) accidentally kills his supervisor and flees to the Texas panhandle with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and little sister (Linda Manz) to work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer (Sam Shepard). A love triangle, a swarm of locusts, a hellish fire, Malick captures it all with dreamlike authenticity, creating at once a timeless American idyll and a gritty evocation of turn-of-the-century labor.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION

- New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Terrence Malick, editor Billy Weber, and camera operator John Bailey
- New Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (with DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition)
- Audio commentary featuring Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden
- Audio interview with actor Richard Gere
- Video interviews with Bailey, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and actor Sam Shepard
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Adrian Martin and a chapter from director of photography Nestor Almendros’s autobiography

Criterionforum.org user rating averages


Greathinker

#2 Post by Greathinker » Thu Oct 12, 2006 5:07 pm

I just saw this film the other night on DVD and was wondering what others thought about it. It's the first film I've seen by Malick and I'm eager to pass it off, but I've had detestable films grow on me before and wouldn't mind taking a closer look if only for his techniques.

Obviously he has his own way of making a film. His use of elipses is very interesting, with completely random scenes of the family being cut in-- they don't make sense in and of themselves but they give you the attitude of the time they're living in, and I guess that's all that's necessary. Malick seems to be an expert in shaping time, he made this 95 minute film almost seem epic yet at the same time capturing something of the briefness of life. Every scene just kind of flowed together and made me forget about the editing. The whole thing has a very organic feel to it.

But that's as far as I can compliment it. Maybe he crafted the story the way he did so that all the elements I described above would work, but intellectually I can't get behind it. The characters are just barely drawn in, (again, maybe to allow them to be place holders for just about any other family during that time?) and it makes for a long and boring story. Sam Shepherd's character is the worse; his large empty house in the middle of nowhere does a good job of describing his personality.

But I hate to admit that the biggest problem I had with the film was the younger sister/narrator. I haven't been so annoyed by a character since Marc Anthony in Bringing Out the Dead. Maybe it was her townboy way of talking, or because her face reminds me of the guy in Stalker, or just because her role outside of narrator seemed so pointless.

I'm still interested in checking out Malick's films but i'm hoping that they are not just attempts to paint full pictures that "fill the senses".

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John Cope
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#3 Post by John Cope » Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:19 am

Wow. I can't relate to that response at all. I just recently rewatched this myself and would be happy to discuss it but really the best, most comprehensive reading of the film that I've seen is readily available.

"Detestable" is a strong word, my friend.

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Polybius
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#4 Post by Polybius » Fri Oct 13, 2006 5:38 am

Greathinker wrote:or because her face reminds me of the guy in Stalker

:lol: As it happens, I really love this film...but that's a great line.

Greathinker

#5 Post by Greathinker » Fri Oct 13, 2006 10:13 am

John Cope wrote:the best, most comprehensive reading of the film that I've seen is readily available.
Thanks for the link, I'll be checking that out.

Don't be turned off by what I said. I am interested in discussing the film. It just so happens that I watched it late and probably wasn't in the right mood for it.

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Matt
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#6 Post by Matt » Fri Oct 13, 2006 10:49 am

Days of Heaven is a lot of people's favorite Malick film, but it's my least favorite, and by a wide margin. But then again, if you don't like this one, you probably won't like the others.

I'm sure someone else can come along later to tell you what makes Malick's films great, but I think you, as a viewer, have to be open to not having every shot and every scene move you along a linear narrative. You have to be open to letting a film seep into your pores, to just immersing yourself in a world of suggestion and nuance. That's not to say you don't have to pay attention - detail is everything in a Malick film. In fact, you might say it's all detail and no "big picture." Try watching Badlands next. If you don't like that, you surely won't like any Malick film (and you'll also be a cretin, but that's beside the point).

Greathinker

#7 Post by Greathinker » Sat Oct 14, 2006 12:48 am

All this portentous talk is making my head spin. Regardless of whether or not I get Malick, I think I will have to watch the film again. I can kind of understand what you're saying Matt, about immersing yourself in simply the suggestion and subtlety of it, while basically paying no attention to strong narrative structure. I believe I read in that essay that the author considered the film not to have much in the way of character or plot-- and that seems appropriate. Certainly it's a different way of looking at a film.

Out of curiosity, what problems did you have with it to make it your least favorite?

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Polybius
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#8 Post by Polybius » Sat Oct 14, 2006 6:21 am

Jesus...Matt put it all into one concise, pithy paragraph.

No wonder he's The Big Cheese 'round these parts 8-)

Ishmael
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#9 Post by Ishmael » Sat Oct 14, 2006 11:57 am

Malick always reminds me of Faulkner in the way that both will construct their stories so thoroughly from the viewpoint of a narrator with limited information and/or comprehension that those stories seem truncated and half-digested. The narrator in Days of Heaven doesn't seem to fully understand what's going on between her sister and Richard Gere, for example, so we don't get a lot of depth to their story. Consider this in relation to something like As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury, and the purpose of this becomes a lot clearer. The story and the characters are there, but you have to dig around a little and fill in the gaps for yourself because the person telling you the story doesn't quite get the full extent of what's happened.

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#10 Post by hangthadj » Wed Oct 18, 2006 11:10 am

I just saw this last over the weekend for the first time and loved it for some of the very reasons already mentioned.

Thing is, I'm not entirely sure that the narrator doesn't understand what we see going on. The narrator is seemingly telling this from a distance looking back on the events, and I think she has distanced herself in a way from what she had seen. I do think that she understands at least in part what is happening, thinking of moments when she says something like "the devil lived on that farm." She chose not to condemn the actions "no man is perfect." But, I do think she understood what has happened, it just comes across as difficult to pick up as her narration is told at arms length for much of the film.

Ishmael
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#11 Post by Ishmael » Wed Oct 18, 2006 12:19 pm

Well, I haven't watched the film in awhile so your interpretation might work better than mine, but what made me feel like she didn't have any understanding or emotional investment in the story she was telling was that at the end of the film she finds a new friend and basically says "Okay, now I'm off on my next adventure." It's as if the previous one meant nothing to her. Considering all that happened, it would be odd if she understood everything completely but cared that little. Perhaps, as I think you're suggesting, she's just distanced herself because the events were too traumatic. Okay, but I didn't find any of her comments in the narration terribly insightful. She just doesn't seem that bright. The emotional distance angle seems more likely to me if she has a greater awareness of the story and, consequently, a greater empathy for the people involved in it. Her dull-witted narration makes me think she doesn't really have the intelligence--or perhaps just the interest--to fully grasp what's happened.

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#12 Post by hangthadj » Wed Oct 18, 2006 2:07 pm

I'm definitely not discounting your point of view here. Personally, I had a very string reaction to the movie and might just be hoping that their is something more to the characters than what looks like a certain flatness or dullwittedness as it were, just made beautiful against the backdrop of the plains and the prairie.

In the essay John Cope posted a link to the author made mention of a change in tone of the narrator after the murder of the farmer. When they were going down the river she would make mention of how the people on the shores might be "burying somebody or maybe crying out for help" which seemed, at least to me to be an odd thing for her to be saying. But I think at that point, I inferred that she may have started to understand the gravity of what had just happened. Whether that was me projecting what I wanted to hear upon the narrator, or maybe just misunderstanding whatever the hell Malick was getting at, I don't know.

As for the final scene with her new "friend," I struggled a bit with that and still don't really get it. I want to think that maybe she now understands the oddity and brevity of human life and is just taking whatever adventures come her way and rolling with them. But with that I am likely just thinking to hard to attach meaning to a certain scene.

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Dylan
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#13 Post by Dylan » Wed Oct 18, 2006 4:04 pm

I've seen "Days of Heaven" many times. It's a great film, but I've never cared for the very ending, and I wish those last few lines of narration weren't there, it just doesn't go with the rest of it (just as a side note, I didn't mind the narration until that point). The music, which is otherwise excellent throughout, also doesn't fit the last shot. Once the film ends with her final line and that music is playing, I'm never completely sure what to feel.
As for the final scene with her new "friend," I struggled a bit with that and still don't really get it. I want to think that maybe she now understands the oddity and brevity of human life and is just taking whatever adventures come her way and rolling with them.
I think you're pretty close, she's just taking things as they come and rolling into a new adventure, but this could've been presented in many different ways, and the "I cared about her" writing just doesn't seem to cut it, particularly since we hardly know this girl she's running away with. We met her earlier, fairly briefly in the fields...could it be that we're supposed to believe that she sort of resembles an older version of Linda's character? They seem to (sort of) have the same mentality.

Here's a draft of the script from 1976 that has a different ending...but I can't really judge it because it clearly connects with other elements in this particular draft that were disgarded before it was shot, so one would have to read the entire thing to make judgements on this ending, which I don't really have the time for at the moment. It does make me wonder, however, if there were a lot of deleted scenes actually shot but cut from the final print. I'd also like to see other takes on the ending, if there were others (I'm assuming there were, and that he got where it ends now during editing...of course I could be wrong).

Anyway, check it out.

soma
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#14 Post by soma » Fri Nov 24, 2006 10:55 pm

Matt wrote:Days of Heaven is a lot of people's favorite Malick film, but it's my least favorite, and by a wide margin. But then again, if you don't like this one, you probably won't like the others.
Same. I'd been looking forward to seeing this for a long time but was bitterly disappointed. It's a good film by any standards, but for me doesn't hold a candle to The Thin Red Line, The New World and Badlands. By contrast this is the film that always makes the critics "lists", though.

LupinIX
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#15 Post by LupinIX » Sat Nov 25, 2006 3:51 am

I think it depends on whether you saw it big or little screen

I saw this way back then in the cinema - can't recall whether this was when it first came out but probably not long after because it was a looong time ago - and it is this memory I think that makes me rate it so highly

I bought this on DVD after seeing and loving New World but have been putting off watching it - can't imagine that big sky will stand up somehow if it's only one metre across. Besides, any film with Richard Gere is a worry, even if he hadn't become that Richard Gere yet.

So my guess is that the pro camp will have seen it on the big screen and the question marks have only seen the DVD

Ishmael
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#16 Post by Ishmael » Sat Nov 25, 2006 11:46 am

LupinIX wrote:So my guess is that the pro camp will have seen it on the big screen and the question marks have only seen the DVD
I hate to shoot down your theory, but the first time I saw this film was about 20 years ago on an incredibly ugly VHS. The picture was so dark that I had to turn the brightness way up to see what was happening. The colors were all muted--in fact, I had no idea that so much of this was shot during magic hour until I later saw some clips of the film in Visions of Light. The sound on the tape was also muddy as hell. Despite all this, I thought the film was completely brilliant. I could tell how beautiful it was supposed to look and sound, and the ugly presentation didn't ruin my appreciation of the film at all.

che-etienne
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#17 Post by che-etienne » Sun Nov 26, 2006 2:46 am

I saw the film on DVD and to me it is one of the best films ever made. Period.

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Don Lope de Aguirre
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#18 Post by Don Lope de Aguirre » Mon Nov 27, 2006 5:51 am

I saw this yesterday and was distinctly under whelmed. Malick has a big reputation a and I was expecting so much more…the film was uninteresting, sketchy and the use of voiceover (so wonderful in Badlands) came across as unnecessary and ponderous. The ending reminded me of ‘Spirit of the Beehive' and I couldn't help thinking how that film is so much more rewarding…

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#19 Post by Saarijas » Mon Nov 27, 2006 5:11 pm

Don Lope de Aguirre wrote:I saw this yesterday and was distinctly under whelmed. Malick has a big reputation a and I was expecting so much more…the film was uninteresting, sketchy and the use of voiceover (so wonderful in Badlands) came across as unnecessary and ponderous.

I was recently reading some article about nanarrationn film, and how its completely and totally useless, and a total cop-out by the director who doesn't have enough skill to convery what the narrator says through the film. Except for Terrence Malick, who's use of narration is absolutley nessicary and perfect. And while the essay was interesting, it was whole heartedly in support of the narration in Days of Heaven, and I too found myself not a fan, despite loving Malick's other films.

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#20 Post by chaddoli » Mon Nov 27, 2006 6:16 pm

I find myself unable to conjure up the best words of praise for this film, other than that I consider it to be the best American film I've ever seen (and that qualifier is not absolutely necessary), and Malick's best work. It is an effortless, deceptively simple masterpiece - a film that, like no other save perhaps The Spirit of the Beehive, sticks its narrative firmly in the eyes of a child. The film is her document of the epic tragedy that she witnessed and took part in, but will be forever unable to deal with. I don't see any question of the film's beauty on this forum (though "epic" even seems lacking), only its narrative. Though it is loose, Malick weaves the story through the imagery with a grace and subtly that I have never seen in a film. I have trouble understanding "later-half" Malick fans who don't see the poetry they love in his "first-half" films. He has evolved since, yes, but he is the same filmmaker. The narration, though not the publishable poetry of The Thin Red Line, achieves the same beauty while planting it firmly in character. The last words, which I know by heart and think about often - "This girl, she didn't know where she was goin' or what she was gonna do. She didn't have no money on her. Maybe she'll meet up with a character. I was hopin' things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine" - contribute to one of the most perfect endings in cinema. A girl who's innocence was not shattered by tragedy, but whose spirit was enlivened by adventure. A girl who cannot comprehend the loss and tragedy she watched unfold.

Greathinker

#21 Post by Greathinker » Mon Nov 27, 2006 6:44 pm

wow, talk about a film with a split audience. I've gone on to see some other of Malick's films since my first post and agree that he is a wonderfully unique filmmaker, but still can't conjure up enthusiasm for this one. I don't know if repeated viewings would help--from the reactions on this forum it seems as if it hits you right from the start or not at all.

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jesus the mexican boi
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#22 Post by jesus the mexican boi » Mon Nov 27, 2006 9:17 pm

Greathinker wrote:from the reactions on this forum it seems as if it hits you right from the start or not at all.
That's it, I think. I fell in love with DAYS OF HEAVEN from the first viewing, which I'm sure was VHS, back-in-the-day. It remains my favorite Malick, and the only one I've rewatched (several times). I don't get tired of it. I think it's lyrical; Manz is a revelation and the narration is one of the beautiful things about it. There's something inherent in the time period in which it takes place--the world seems new and old at the same time, and I agree with a previous poster about the perfection of the closing words. DAYS OF HEAVEN is as close to a visceral (though that hardly seems the word) filmic experience as I can imagine, a pure reaction to the lost America unfolding on the screen. I love it, I love it, I love it.

patrick
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#23 Post by patrick » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:25 pm

I guess Malick must have asked for the 5.1 track then? I hope that it's not the only option available.

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Matt
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#24 Post by Matt » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:28 pm

I'm shocked that Malick approved a commentary track. I thought he would be one of those Lynch-type guys that wouldn't want the image and sound tracks to be separated in any way.

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domino harvey
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#25 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:30 pm

I expected Criterion would prepare a commentary track for this but I thought it would be a scholarly affair and not crew

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