Richard Lutz puts down his remote to tell us what’s good on the box when it comes to movies
Terrence Malick doesn’t make many films. But when he does, they simply are the most beautiful, ravishing and perplexing to hit a screen. I think his record reveals he finishes one a decade.
He will stop a brutal war film to show an insect chewing on a stick of grass; he will edit in a sequence about a dinosaur plodding through a marsh as part of a movie about the quiet horrors of middle class America; and he will show you an endless sky in a film about farming.
That endless sky is in Days of Heaven (Tues, 19.00, TCM). It is one of the best films to come out of crass and brash Hollywood. It is America- big, endless, beautiful and relentlessly on the road to hell where perfection is marred by the failing of the human condition.
It was made in 1978 (and there was a ten year gap til he finished his next) and tells the dreamy story of a drifter (Richard Gere) who leaves the dark shadows of urban Chicago after a fatal fight and wanders into the vast American rural canvas with his wife and a young hanger –on.
It is the early 20th century and machinery is starting to eat into the Texan dirt. Gere and his gang slowly dance to the rhythm of the infinite west. Huge eyefilling skies float over the the rolling farmlands, swallow them up and, in this world, the raw combustion of our weaknesses peep about to turn this Eden into a tragic story.
Basically, a story about Adam And Eve screwing up a natural heaven.
And even if the story erodes on you, starts to meander and slow down, there is always the overwhelming beauty of a Malick film, shot by Nestor Almendros who won an Oscar for his work.
Malick went on make one of the US’s best war films (The Thin Red Line); a masterpiece about the colonisation of America (The New World); and the recent Brad Pitt vehicle Tree of Life (viewers either loved or hated it). His first movie, Badlands, preceded Days of Heaven and has Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek on the lam in a beat up car on the road to nowhere.
He is a major director.
Elsewhere, it is, alas, slim pickings in the schedules (except for one specific film I will mention later). So let’s stick with Tuesday which seems allright to stand alone in this slight week.
If you are glued to the box after Malick and those big landscapes, stick around for Body Heat (TCM; 21.00, Tues) with a sultry Kathleen Turner out to twist her lover into a murder that will change his life. It is 1940’s film noir in 1980’s steamy Louisiana and made the actress a star forever for the double dealing husky voiced character she played..
On the same night, a bit of bittersweet comedy with Couscous (Tues 1AM, Film4) OK, ok, it technically is Wednesday when you take in the exact time, but your brain is still murmering Tuesday, isn’t it?
This little arthouse piece about a North African immigrant trying his hardest to open a restaurant in southern France has it all- quiet laughs, tears, a well crafted depiction of the small man trying to remain an honest man in a mean spirited world. You root for his success and…well, watch this movie.
On other nights, I’ll leave you with the hints that there’s a lot of Clint, the inevitable Wicker Man ( 1973 edition), Frank Sinatra sleep walking through a war film (Von Ryan’s Express), a run of the mill Carry On attempt (it’s in a hospital so lots of nurses in short dresses) and an even more inevitable John Wayne heading North to Alaska for some reason.
But… wait…. buried away among the dross is the above mentioned Tree of Life by Malick (Fri; 22.00 Sky Movies Indie). So all is not lost.
Stick with Terrence Malick.