The movie industry cares only about money, not art. Right? Yet Terrence Malick’s four-decade-long career demonstrates how much money and talent film folk will lavish on an occasional prodigy.
The exquisite middle section of the 67-year-old director’s new movie, The Tree of Life, an autobiographical memoir of his adolescence in 1950s Waco, Texas, finally fulfills the hopes Hollywood has invested in Malick since his memorable 1973 debut, Badlands, featuring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as a thrill-kill couple. Malick is the Red State Coleridge, the philosopher-poet of the Oil Patch.
A few extra notes on The Tree of Life:
- The idea of Sean Penn playing (in the present) the son of Brad Pitt and and the gorgeous Jessica Chastain (who appear as the parents in the 1950s section of the movie) sounds implausible, but the redheaded starlet has the kind of strong facial features that could, conceivably, be responsible for Sean Penn.
- Malick's own father was variously described as an "Assyrian Christian" or "Chaldean Christian." (Thus, the Garden of Eden reference in the title is all in the family.) There aren't many pictures available of the reclusive Malick, but he looks like a heavier-set version of another half-Arab with fine visual taste, Steve Jobs. [P.S., an Orthodox priest writes in to say that Assyrians don't like to be called "Arabs." He says it's very complicated, but I can see their point: as the Book says in Genesis, they were there first, long before the Arabs arrived.]
- In the movie, Pitt's character describes himself as holder of 27 patents. Online, I can only find ten patents held by Emil A. Malick, but double digits is pretty good, anyway.
- You always hear about the wonders of "Director's Cut," but I'd like to see an "Editor's Cut" of quite a few movies. For example, how much more exciting would a 2-hour version of "King Kong" be than the 3-hour drag Peter Jackson released? You could lose about 45 minutes of "Tree of Life" and the overall movie would be twice as good.
- A director with a similar look to Terrence Malick is Carroll Ballard. Both have only made five movies since the 1970s, and both make gorgeous outdoors films without a lot of dialogue (Here's Spike Jonze's commentary on Ballard's "The Black Stallion.") Ballard paid a lot of dues coming up (he was the second unit director on "Star Wars," which sounds like a pretty good credit to me. I think Ballard's dad was a prominent cameraman in his own day, too.) But Ballard has got typecast as a kids' movie director, not as an art house genius, and has had trouble getting financing, while Malick always has powerful patrons. The link between the two directors is cameraman Caleb Deschanel, who was the DP on Malick's masters thesis short at AFI and then was DP on The Black Stallion.