Screengrab: Days of Heaven

RICHARD LUTZ points to the movie you shouldn’t miss on TV this week.

Screen GrabI was picking blackberries this past weekend and my hands were all stained with the dark juice and my arms scratched all over the place. There was a warm sun overhead, a blue sky with scuttering clouds and a rolling newly harvested field in front of me. The wind was a whisper, the hedge birds alive and the view was a painting, a mural, a dream.

It was a scene out of a Terrence Malick movie. A meditation in how beautiful this globe can be on a simply pretty day. You can see how this unique director handles landscape with Days of Heaven (Thurs, 11.45, Sky Indie). It is a 1978 film about a trio of drifters who are on the run and end up entangled with the life of a lonely farmer in Texas a century ago.

Malick fills the screen with the southwestern sky, the endless fields of grain, the gentle warmth of an autumn. He allows cameramen Nestor Almendros and Haskel Wexler to hold the lens still and quiet to take it all in and he only filmed in early morning and early evening (the so-called Magic Hours) so there is natural light and no globe of heat in the sky.

The plot is rural noir. Sam Shepard plays a lone but wealthy farmer who is dying. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams are on the lam and want his money. It all ends…well, weirdly and the story is eerily told in flashback by Gere’s screen sister.

Gere is part of the handsome landscape, maybe even as attractive as the world around him. His foil, quiet honest Shepard, is stoic as the world around him collapses.

One of the cinema photographers, Nestor Almendros, was going blind when he filmed the tale. He would vaguely glimpse the image he desired, have an assistant snap a Polaroid shot and inspect it under a magnifying glass. Grandmaster Wexler (Sophie’s Choice, American Graffiti,Medium Cool) helped out. He received no credit and Almendros grabbed the filming Oscar. That’s Hollywood for you.

Malick has made only a handful of movies in his career. At one time, there was a twenty year gap in his CV. Days of Heaven is one of his most naturalistic in terms of the world him, around us. He cited Vermeer, Hopper and Wyeth as painters whom he tried to emulate in the screen and, in many ways, he damn well succeeded.