Friday, June 17, 2011

"Film Socialisme" (2010)

At one point there is a young boy tracing the outlines of egyptian hieroglyphics on paper, and a novel of Naguib Mahfouz is placed nearby. (Objects relate to words like environments relate to actions.) The boy reads aloud what the hieroglyphics say. (I do not remember what he says, but it does not matter: he is in the act of translating something foreign into something native [francophone], something written into something spoken, or something image-based into something script-based.) "Egypt": one of Godard's six "humanities" -- "six sites of true or false myths" -- focal points of a constellation of underrepresented or historically oppressed areas in the world. In another scene there are two people engaged in french discourse, while a woman off-screen or in voice-over speaks in untranslated Russian: the camera seems to be placed on or near a table, and right in front of it are russian dolls. This is supposed to represent "Odessa" -- in Ukraine, but even Ukrainians speak Russian -- yet another astral point in the historical-political constellation Godard constructs throughout the film. The other locations are Barcelona, Naples, Palestine, and Hellas (which I suppose ties together both ancient and modern Greece). At another juncture, Hellas is spelt out as "Hell as"; words and phrases spoken in one of the many languages that weave in and out of the fabric of Film Socialisme are broken on purpose, even in the subtitles: when someone says a few sentences in french, they are translated in three word or two word phrases that eliminate the arbitration of grammar and syntax and give us only the noun-verb bones of the matter, "Navajo English" or something similar to anglo-saxon kenning (ex. "Goldmountain German" or "Love Hate Dialectical Thinking" or "poisonmoney gambling," etc.). Each scene too is fragmented by experimentations in audio and visual media: all of the film is in digital (of which Godard has fittingly become an unparalleled master in regard to its use and possibilities) but many pieces appear like fragments taken from different digital cameras (some retrograde, others in higher definition) creating a more textural, piecemeal, indeed jarring experience. Soundbites are mixed in with shattered clips of music, ghostly voice-overs, hiss and static, strong wind, off-screen noise.

A lot of this experimentation is appropriately Godardian, and a lot of the parts that make up Film Socialisme can be found in other films (from 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and King Lear to the Histoire(s) du Cinema series and Notre Musique). "A symphony in three movements": an appropriate description because the experience of watching this film is very nearly the same as listening to a bootlegged underground noise mixtape interspersed with spoken word performances. An experimental music record. The 1st movement, which takes place on a cruise ship, is for me the best, most well-executed section, often physiologically stimulating: similar to the 1st movement of Notre Musique, but even denser, more complex. I cannot imagine any digital experimental film achieving the same kind of complexity and visionaryness as what Godard accomplishes here. The 2nd movement, again like in Notre Musique, is duller, less realized, fundamentally uninteresting (a part, coincidentally, that some critics like because it resembles more of a straight-forward narrative in which the digital camera stays still for once and lets people speak for themselves and shows, as Rosenbaum says, "empathy" for the characters -- but I think all this is beside the point). This 2nd movement is another form of proof for my (unpopular) belief that Godard had never truly mastered straight-ahead narrative, a deficiency that stretches as far back to Breathless (he gets bored too easily, and often he bores the audience with his boredom when he stands still and shoots things, unmediating them for once in real-time, and finding few means of mediation -- as if he were helpless outside of the cutting room floor). Yes, he is not interested in "narrative," but I mean to point out his frequent inability to find compositional resonance in any scene stripped of special effect or editorial supplementation (if you take, for example, any current director working now, Pedro Costa, Tsai Ming-Liang, Jia Zhangke, etc., all of whom work with pure blocks of unmitigated, uncut digital realism, you will see the difference between knowing how to squeeze out as much narrative and movement from jagged pieces of still-life and not knowing how to make badly-dressed people interesting). Godard has always lacked this patience for still life, and he usually made up his lack of insight into mundanity by filling his scenes with people reciting words, words, words (literary quotations, provocative statements, political harangues) or with editorial jump cuts, intercalations of other media, soundtrack interruptions. (It is astonishing to me that not many have ever noticed this directorial deficiency in Godard.)

In any case, after we have gone past the dullness and symbolic arbitration of the 2nd movement (something representative of Godard at his worst), we are returned by the 3rd movement to what makes JLG a living legend, a household name, a literary style unto himself: the representation of history and its discontents, of image and textuality, through mediological provocation. We again start entering the mind of Godard, start seeing how he sees (and indeed a very scatterbrained and compulsive way of seeing that forces you into an either/or way of thinking, into making a philosophical choice, into accepting a moral responsibility for what you see) and what he sees is "reality in reality." Reality in reality: I cannot think of a better definition of what digital video does, has done, for the cinematic arts. The digital asethetic brings shards of reality inside/into reality, it sees reality within reality, it sets up a screen that blocks us from reality (and this screen is the physical screen of the theater but also the screen of words, of languages, of incoherences, of media noise, that divides us from the real) but also it gives us a screen through which we filter reality, or we seep into it, or it divides the gold chips from the dross and the contaminated water and gives us what reality-inside-reality can give us: some kind of access, some kind of unmediated mediation. "Reality in reality," yes, but also: "Access denied." To which Godard can only respond: "No comment." Socialism is a utopia which could only have existed in the cinema, in which all images are made equal and given LibertéÉgalité and Fraternité. What is Godard's point? Freedom in cinema, the socialized image, in which all historical images are made equal and made available to everyone, could never translate into actual political freedom, into real democracy. The screen presents and protects, but it also condemns and excludes. The problem of what is politically and aesthetically representable can only be answered with wordlessness, with the anti-image. Hence, "no comment."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Badlands" (1973)

"You're quite an individual, Kit."
"You think they'll take that into consideration?"

They will but they won't be able to -- the law doesn't allow them to make concessions. Because a movie is still limited to the laws of movieness and good guys get forgotten and bad guys stay remembered; and good-bad guys are the subjects of movies that are bound by laws of time and not by those of morality. That is, as movie (as opposed to being a "film") it is a piece of sculpted time usually cut down to 90 mins of fine storytelling (Badlands is 96 mins, but discounting the end credits, really, really close to the perfect 90). The perfection of Badlands has to do with how well-edited and how well-acted and how well-balanced everything in its composition really is -- and it has to do with its movie-length perfectionism, its 90 minute sphericality. The totality of it amounts to being a movie containment more so than a film escapement: one which is in league with those "instant classics" that feel as if they were made long before you ever saw them; because almost every line is memorable (because every line is spoken with the carefree deliberation of people on the run who want to make themselves remembered before they disappear into the night, into the solitude of the Montana Badlands where nothing grows) and because Martin Sheen, after all, was a nobody until he made this film, that is, until he started shooting people because he was in mad love and people and the Law (the law of movieness) started trying to catch him and make him explain why he is so likable when he was so bad. And because Sissy Spacek was a nobody too, who made TV movies before Terrence Malick picked her (maybe because she was 24 but she could pass for a 15-year-old and maybe because she was a redhead and her large light blue eyes made you think she could read your mind while living hers privately in ways that could not be foreshadowed or guessed at by any amount of divination, unless you could hear her speak in voice-over).

Terrence Malick was blessed and cursed when he made Badlands. He was blessed because his 1st film turned out to be an instant classic, it was almost too good for its own good, as handsome and wise and cool as Martin Sheen, as insightful and private and pure as Sissy Spacek. It is a film as much of the 50s as it was of the 70s, and it ran forward with the resolve of a short-distance runner who knows how to reach the end of a narrative by following along the track lines, contained within the sphericality of the narrative, the memorable lines, the handsome actors, the "mad love" or "love on the run" rationale that could speak for a generation or make sense of a confused but quite innocent time in which America meant the liberty to bear arms and buy shells at gasoline stations, drink soda pop instead of water, drive cadillacs across desert terrain, and elope with an underage girlfriend on the way toward heaven (or Montana or wherever wide open spaces were) and throw all the rest to the devil. But Malick was cursed because Badlands turned out to cut his career short, to stifle it, to make him want to never make Badlands again. From the perspective of Badlands, Malick's 2nd film, Days of Heaven, seems more of a failure or a pained lurch forward, a self-aware composition that was in search of a cinematic lexicon which could go beyond the contained sphericality of Badlands but which turned out to be more confused and hypothetical than assured and well-defined. Even though Days of Heaven still retained a 90 minute length, it was no longer spherical, no longer a movie; it was a film, an escapement, it was trying to do something different within 90 minutes. And indeed, some 20 years later, Malick made The Thin Red Line, which turned out to be 170 minutes (and probably could have gone longer), and he was definitely no longer interested in making movies, he wanted to make films, a new kind of art that people would associate with his name. It would not be until The New World when he would perfect the technique that began with Days of Heaven, and each film since then has been an escapement that mimicked Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek's escapement from the laws of movieness which, ironically, was an attempt on the part of Malick to escape the sphericality of an american classic like Badlands, a film so good and so american that it could make a director never want to repeat it again.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"13 Assassins" (2010)

It would be entirely unwise of me to declare outright that 13 Assassins is Takashi Miike's best film. One reason is obvious: I have simply not seen all 70+ films of his. The second reason is not so obvious: I am not, nor will I ever be, a devoted fan of Miike. His work invites fanboyism and diehards (so much have I gathered) and his strange factory-style willingness to make more and more films has erased what sense of style I can perceive in him. He is, oddly, in the same league as the assembly line directors of the 40s and 50s who would churn out films by the dozen. I have so far seen only his most well-known films, Audition, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, Gozu. I am even a great fan of Imprint, a truly repulsive inclusion into the Masters of Horror series: a horror masterpiece and easily the best entry in a very flawed series. But nothing of Miike ever commits itself to me except a sense of unease at either the eccentric haphazardness of his style (which makes him at the same time, bizarrely, a master of genre) or at the insane productivity he manages to work with, seemingly tireless. But maybe I am secretly complimenting a very hard-to-define artist.

With all of these caveats out of the way, I can safely declare (at least) that 13 Assassins is the best film I've seen of Miike's. It takes no major stylistic risks if we were to compare it with his other well-known work, and I'm certain that a diehard would prove me wrong in considering such a conventional film as 13 Assassins as his best work (conventional, at least, in relation to how ruggedly unconventional Miike can prove to be). But 13 Assassins seems to me to show Miike at his most controlled, at his most efficient, at his most workhorse-like. He shows the acumen of a skilled and weary director who's done it all: this man can direct anything, provided you give him the time and liberty to pull it off. He has pulled off nothing less than an old school classic, one that dares to insert itself quite proudly in the worn-out samurai genre (something which has not been "reinvented" since the recent films of Yoji Yamada). Unlike Yamada's humanitarian turns, Miike sticks to what he knows: brutality, ultra-violence, human cruelty. Cartoonish cruelty, indeed, but cruelty nonetheless; the cruelty of a comic book villain. The logic is cold, simplistic, reducible to black-and-white binaries: the logic of a 12-year-old boy playing with his action figurines and constructing a highly ornate battle sequence in which the highest possible body count piles up. A bad man (in this case, a pampered young nobleman who happens to be son of the Shogun and is so ludicrously inhuman that he murders strangers on the slightest whim) is next in line to take over the Shogunate: he must be stopped at all costs, or he will break the country's longstanding peace-time with his desire to bring war for no other reason than to amuse his feckless boredom with life (or something like that). A good guy (played by Koji Yakusho, gamely evoking the weariness and sagacity of Takashi Shimura in Seven Samurai) rounds up 11 other skilled samurai warriors to rub out the heavily-protected bad guy; the 12 warriors are eventually joined by a 13th, a mysterious rustic they encounter in the forest (played by Yusuke Iseya, utterly failing -- and who can blame him? -- in his attempt to evoke Toshiro Mifune's character).

Reduced to its fundamental parts, that is the extent of the plot, and it is precisely the reason why this film works so well: it wastes no time to get to the action, of which the centerpiece is the 40+ minute final battle scene in which the 13 samurai take on an army of 130 soldiers. Part of the pleasure of the film is in discovering how the 13 manage to level their odds: where Seven Samurai quite famously developed engaging storylines by involving the village people in the operation of the makeshift battle fortress they construct with the samurai, Miike and his screenwriters, perhaps sensing their inability to recreate such a highly inimitable plot structure, choose to forgo too much exposition and dive right into the visual surprise of trick-shot battle tactics (but this is probably more due to the inherent design of Kaneo Ikegami's original screenplay). An adolescent boy's dream undoubtedly, but one whose execution puts to shame the current stock of action and superhero films that are being made with three times the budget in Hollywood now (that said, there is probably no better pure summer action film than this one out right now). What distinguishes this film from something like 300 is its commitment to an older style of filmmaking that relies less on computer effects and more on sheer numerousness of actors, intricate set design, and the kinetic force of unmolested human movement. The grotesque false action of 300 (slow motion scenes do not constitute "good" action in cinema: they are the weak and underdeveloped simulation of actual human movement) is replaced by the equally grotesque but brutally descriptive action of people moving, thrusting, slicing, running, jumping, crouching, hitting, sparring, and blocking in something that is not real-time but which tries its hardest to approximate. The editing and shot selection as well as the action choreography combine to produce an intense and constant display of kinetic art that can (apparently) only be achieved after making at least 70 films.

Though 13 Assassins is a remake of a 1963 film of the same name (which was itself yet another exercise in jidai-geki themes that were in circulation during the period), the ostensible model continues to be Seven SamuraiSeven Samurai, among the ten greatest films that have consistently affected me throughout my life, is in every respect an unsurpassable film -- simply recalling its passages, its flights of tenderness, its range of human emotion and heroism, is enough to bring me to tears. For me, Kurosawa's work stands as the Illiad of cinema. That said, it is incumbent on me to applaud Miike's ability to have made a classic film which never attempts to repeat the unrepeatable. His film stands separately, in homage to its obvious paternity, and its deference is shown, remarkably, in the outbursts of ultra-violence that so distinctly mark a Miike film. Miike, a born iconoclast, stays true to himself, and it is this attitude which paradoxically shows itself to be the deepest reverence for the rich heritage that precedes him. Whether the success of 13 Assassins is repeated in yet another Miike-helmed remake of an inimitable film, Kobayashi's Harakiri (both are derived from the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi) is but another story.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Twentynine Palms" (2003)

Bruno Dumont's "american film," one in which a certain strain of vulgar, savage Americanism is represented (not altogether incorrectly) by the wasteland through which two accidental lovers decide to trek across on a whim. It is the part of America I know quite well, the region known to a few as David Lynch's Inland Empire (a very real place) and to the rest of the world as San Bernardino County -- the region I grew up in. In Dumont's eyes, America is perfectly encapsulated in the grotesqueries of the California desert lifestyle, in which civilization seems to be represented by a chain of cheap motels and Dairy Queens, apoplectic pickup truck drivers who scream "This is my street!" when someone jaywalks in front of them, or the lurid glare of a solitary car lurching through early morning darkness in search of street walkers. America is the glibly titled "Desert Ranch Market," it is Route 66, yellow Hummers, massive windmill generators, mute off-duty U.S. Marines licking ice cream cones in weird contemplation. America is "emptiness." It is quotation marks. Dumont, aware of all this hyperbole and sarcasm, uses a variety of tongue-in-cheek citations to lull us into passivity. The sex helps of course and the couple (the male lead played by a slightly disagreeable actor by the name of David Wissak and the female lead played by Sharunas Bartas' muse Yekaterina Golubeva) come across as sufficiently odd-matched as to make their sex creditably necessary and desperate. "J'ai envie de toi" is a very real emotion for people who have very little in common. Sex on the brain, but also: animalism. Eventually, the death-drive. In a Hummer of course, driving toward nowhere, toward oblivion. 29 Palms -- whose name resembles nothing of its character, indeed whose name seems to evoke all the absurdity of Beckett-like emptiness -- is the site of oblivion.

For all of this unfortunately spot-on symbolism (unfortunate because people in the Inland Empire actually enjoy driving Hummers and raging, lifted Ford pickup trucks) and in spite of Dumont's quite excellent stagecraft (his pacing is quite superb to be honest), I have to agree with some of his critics and dissenters: Dumont's intentions are very much disingenuous -- we learn only at the end that the careful setup of intimacy shared by the two lovers was used as a ruse for a classic carpet-pulled-from-under-your-feet parlor trick. But without giving anything away, it is really so much worse than that, so much more vile: the film seems to exist only for its ending, flattening out the potential for any emotions other than fear and desire. In a word, 29 Palms is structurally (and literally) abusive: and Dumont congratulates himself on it (there is a quote somewhere in which he declares that film can be reduced to these two emotions: fear and desire, death and sex.) Reduced to these two polarities -- death and sex, fear and desire -- 29 Palms is effective, undeniably haunting, and it leaves a brand on the brain. It sets out to perform a ruthless act, and it pulls it off with stark determination.

Yet for all this type of abuse, there also results a quite vivid lack in clarity. 29 Palms makes its point, but fails to surpass the stringent circumference of its shock-value. A nihilist, after all, is nothing but a nihilist. An inexplicable act occurs... and then what? Is this philosophy at work? Is this mysticism? (One character says quite bluntly: "But there is nothing to understand.") Certainly not a metaphysics of time; rather, a very conservative materialism masquerading as "being and nothingness." The point is: the dog eats the dog. Meat wants meat. The aesthetic problem lies not with the inexplicable demon-ex-machina ending, but with the total collapse of sensitivity that was built up so carefully in the earlier passages. Yes, we get it: one man's pleasure is another man's rape (notice the similarity with which sexual joy [which to Dumont is nearly always a disguised sadism] etches its grimace of pain across the lover's and the tormentor's face equally). Humans are beasts after all. The sex and violence binary all over again. Eros versus Thanatos, but in Dumont's world, Eros = Thanatos. Hence the odd animalistic orgasms of the two lovers, the spontaneous spurts of violence shared between them, the recriminations, the strangling and slapping. Eventually, the boredom, only to be countered by another miraculous surge of lust, the words that rise to their mouths like a prayer: "J'ai envie de toi."

I read somewhere that 29 Palms should be considered Dumont's horror film, but I find the genre specificity of  the horror film insufficient to account for how much emphasis he places on the development of the lovers' relationship, something which is, I think, the only (almost) authentic feature of the film. They are believable to me, and their emptiness, reflected by the diurnal motions of the lust that drives them forward, endlessly forward, is very real: there are indeed people like this, attractive sexually-motivated people like this, in "real life." I see a perverse Antonioni at work here, a bit of Pasolini as well, unfortunately lacking any of those directors' gifts for actual catharsis. Ironically, Dumont's films are nearly always parodies or simulacra of catharsis: catharsis for dummies, catharsis with a baseball bat. If one were to accept the claim that 29 Palms is Dumont's horror film, then it would be akin to declaring that practically any of Dumont's films are variations of the horror-in-disguise. Dumont's nihilism is fundamentally horror-driven, a philosophical horror at what he conceives to be the impossibility of actual human goodness (or he implies this, since not much else can be gleaned from a lot of heavy-handed gestures). Perhaps all horror films derive from this principle, but the horror film enjoys a certain friction with genre constraints that make it either revelatory or asinine: with 29 Palms the constraints are nowhere to be found, the desert is everywhere, the limitations are only what can be drawn from weeds and rocks and gasoline stations. The boundlessness of 29 Palms prevents it from being a proper horror film -- and Dumont, moreover, is not very interested in such restraints. I would aver that Dumont's style could possibly improve if he ever developed a taste for genre, for the straight-ahead horror film -- but he is a style unto himself, he is Dumont, and that trademark carries enough cultural capital on its own to keep him in the shock-and-awe business for a long time coming.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"The New World" (2005)

Let us say that the permanent american idiom is the lyrical, the ecstatic. The object of devotion of this lyrical medium is geography, nature-love, the Whitmanesque; Walden, Emerson, the transcendental, etc. Malick's The New World takes its object of devotion to be Pocahontas (who goes so long unnamed throughout the film; because she requires no name -- she is earth, wind, fire, water, and so forth -- she speaks of rivers). Love of America, so the camera tells us in sweeping gestures of montage and panorama, is the love of Pocahontas. A pure, a divine love. She was but a girl; and Captain John Smith was "a god to me." First love; love at first sight -- more enduring than "the riches of the Indies" (one could philosophize here and use rhetorical gestures and extend the similes). For instance, when they first meet:

There is the buildup of a devotional instrumentation that consistently returns to the gaze, her gaze. We are nearly always looking at her looking at others, at her lovers, at "Mother Nature"; we are watching her in the act and emotionality of love. Her lifespan feeds and absorbs the lifespan of the film. If she is in love, she compels others to love her. (And the camera certainly loves her.) We are compelled to watch her gaze and study her smile, her eyes, her hands: 

But romance almost always ends, even if nature -- cradle of romance -- does not. Pastorals terminate in marriages, but the newlyweds nearly always take off their rustic dress and return to England, to courts and well-trimmed gardens, to the "artificial and civilized." With Hart Crane we'll recall that the time of harvest would be the time of death, sparagmos, her youth taken away with the bleeding of the pomegranate, the turning of the seasons: 
She ran the neighing canyons all the spring;
She sprouted arms; she rose with maize -- to die.
We know that she will marry another man (who turns out, per the film, to be Christian Bale/John Rolfe, "a good man"). We know also that she'll visit England at the request of the king and queen. She goes there to effect the marriage of Old World with New World; she goes there, risen with the maize, to die. She is buried there, and we can assume that with the final shot, she has merged with Nature (the "mother" she constantly refers to, with whom she shares her inmost thoughts, in voice-over). She becomes the "Tree of Life." She has, moreover, given birth to a child who has old and new blood in him; she leaves behind a family, a union of disparate parts, a heritage for a new race of poets to build upon. 
There was a bed of leaves, and broken play
There was a veil upon you, Pocahontas, bride -- 
But the New World does not disappear with the fading of romance; it begins again in the formation of different, mature loves. Love of the family may very well be a righteous substitute for the love of the earth, the secret of the grain, children, genealogy. If her core was hidden in the gaze that dwelt on the gaze of others, she flashes back a smile that reflects your gaze on her, and
Then you see her truly -- your blood remembering its first invasion of her secrecy, its first encounters with her kind, her chieftain lover... his shade that haunts the lakes and hills.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Days of Heaven" (1978)

"She was a friend of mine." Final statement of which the importance lends itself to no purpose or resolution. A film which is, bizarrely, always in mid-sentence or at the end of something said, half-whispered, half-heard. A lot of dialog muffled by atmosphere or simply unheard. Days of Heaven begins with an easy enough dichotomy: big city (poverty, pollution, smog, industry, etc.) versus big sky (the Texas Panhandle region, harvesting, blue skies, gigantic clouds, roaming buffalo, etc.) Chicago versus Amarillo. One cluttered form of impersonality (of turn-of-the-century factories, of suffocation, of murder muffled by industrial noise) contra a naturalistic open-ended kind of impersonality (of wild fires, untrammeled beasts, locusts, nameless races of people, migration). And some of it connected through voice-over, in this case, the voice-over recollections -- almost always nugatory in relation to the plot structure -- of a young adolescent girl, Linda, whose Chicago-speak merely adds another flimsy layer of ethnography to Malick's historiographical project. 

The editing of the film seems haphazard, too rapid for ingestion. Something is always left unsaid or half-heard. Constantly in medias res. With the exception of the locust and wild fire setpiece and the action-directed finale, very few scenes are ever satisfyingly developed. Malick's meditative reflections on history and geography are often reduced to picturesque clips and soundbites that are hurriedly piled one on top of another with the same speed that the seasonal workers collect and toss the wheat bundles from the tractor. He is in some kind of a hurry, perhaps from an excess of harvested images. Nestor Almendros' cinematography largely makes up for the alacrity with which the film zooms along; if our empathy for the characters is nullified by the velocity and fragmentariness of the editing, Almendros' lens-work (which before Days of Heaven had been mainly employed by french metteurs-en-scene, Truffaut, Rohmer, etc.) produces what stray moments of thought the film has to offer. The film is meant to be looked at, and its surface is intended to stand in for actual soil, actual grain. It is not Dovzhenko -- it lacks a socialist fervor, in some cases a spiritual fervor -- but it is about as close as a decent-sized american production from the 70s can get.

Malick has never been one for "ideas" per se -- for instance, as someone like Kubrick had always been -- but his films work in tandem with constructed and sometimes self-conscious americanisms that have recurred in a variety of north american filmographies. I will say this again, later: Malick's oeuvre is almost exclusively concerned with geography, american geography, and his image-ideas serve as historiographies of an american-oriented epistemology. An american epistemology is necessarily a geographical one: the endless search for the "New World," whatever it was, if it was anything at all. Days of Heaven is not about anything in particular (if it were really concerned for its "story" then it would have taken greater care to develop its largely undeveloped scenes, but Malick insists on zipping along, seemingly interested in immersing us in a staccato rhythm of natural history scenes and american dreamscape). On the one hand, the title alludes to the paradisiacal days spent by the three Chicago-bred characters in big sky country, a surrogate heaven and an escape from big city clutter, only to eventually suffer a second-hand Paradise Lost of sorts; on the other hand, Days of Heaven works as historical travelogue, and Malick seems to be more concerned with historicity and historical character, with geographical study, than he does with the semi-western scenario that drives the characters along (literally, semi-western, since we are in northeastern Texas, close to the heart-land of the country, and the camera takes a few John Ford glances on a bevy of nostalgic landscapes). It is with this reason that we overhear Linda say to herself (again, in Chicago-accented voice-over): "I sometimes wonder what it'd be like to be a mud doctor [a geologist]." A confession, perhaps, of one of Malick's fondest daydreams.