It would just be dumb not to include this. I have been once accused of being irreverent above all, and I am in danger of proving that here when I say that I find most Malick 2.0 movies to be ridiculous. I do like To the Wonder because it’s pulpy. When I heard that Malick was making The Thin Red Line, I checked James Jones’s book out of the library and sat in my attic sublet poring over it in anticipation of what was to come, and when it came . . . gee whiz but what an overblown lint ball of homoerotic bluster and worthlessness. And: there’s nothing wrong with Badlands. Beautiful, great music, magical pace, great, great acting. An ultimate movie, so good that it’s understandable how the momentum from Badlands alone can propel boatloads of people to believe that The New World has content. Springsteen appropriated Badlands, using its power to artificially light his Nebraska. Tarantino and Tony Scott used it to make the best screwball romantic comedy of modern times, True Romance. Badlands is as close to a perfect movie as I can think of (though I don’t hold perfection as the most desirable of qualities in anything), one that holds something to draw in almost any audience. Even the brutality that might otherwise repel is balanced enough with gentleness and charisma that I wouldn’t squirm watching the movie with a grandparent. Well: children probably shouldn’t see it. Maybe probably.
Will Oldham put Terrence Malick’s film Badlands at number #3 on his Criterion Collection Top Fifteen list.
A. It’s likely that if you care about these things you’ve already seen the first full (non-teaser) trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice.
B. Here is that trailer:
C. What do you think?
D. I think it looks pretty great.
E. Well, I mean, the trailer still has the, I don’t know, rhythms and contours and tropes of, like, quirky indie comedy film trailers—verbal slapstick, slapstick slapstick (I love the bit at 00:27 when the cop knocks Sportello down, but the callback at 1:52 seems like it could squash a punchline), an affected scream, up-tempo soundtrack (although “Don’t Know Much About History” isn’t one of the many, many songs mentioned in the book). But hey, target audience, etc. etc. etc.
F. And I’m sure the target audience here loves to get a taste of Owen Wilson looking vulnerable and sensitive and just very Owen Wilsonish. (I, a target, enjoyed the taste).
G. And apparently Michael K. Williams is in this movie making his Michael K. Williams face.
H. And also: Joanna Newsom is supposedly in the film—both as a character and narrator. She narrates the trailer, but if she’s in it, like, physically, I think I missed that.
I. And we get this:
J. And a New Age cult pizza party, staged in a loose approximation of The Last Supper.
K. And Eric Roberts.
L. And Josh Brolin shouting for pancakes in sloppy Japanese.
M. And guns! Yes, guns in the trailer, audience!
N. And some ass shots to boot, including our man Sportello, prostrate, cowering.
O. I like that the trailer—and I’m guessing the film itself (?)—uses the same neon-noir font that the book did; I thought the cover of Inherent Vice was horrendous, but ultimately made sense.
P. But what I find most fascinating here is how neatly Newsom’s narration sums up the novel’s plot in the first 20 seconds of the trailer, highlighting just how irrelevant the plot is in Pynchon’s novel. Inherent Vice: The Novel eschews plotting in favor of verbal style, mood, and imagery—which makes Paul Thomas Anderson an ideal filmmaker to handle the first (and maybe we should hope only) Pynchon adaptation.
Q. I’m usually pretty wary of film adaptations of big-ell Literature, but Inherent Vice is kind of on the bubble there. It’s a shaggy dog tale, just like the Coen brothers’ classic The Big Lebowski, or Tarantino’s best film Jackie Brown. (When I reviewed the book a few years ago, I brought up Elmore Leonard and Lebowski, along with Chinatown).
R. My big concern is that PTA, like his hero Robert Altman, can get a bit too shaggy. When he’s got a clear trajectory to follow (Boogie Nights; Punch Drunk Love), PTA offers up a deep comic complex humanism. But then there’s that fine mess Magnolia.
S. I loved the last film that Joaquin Phoenix and PTA did together though, 2012’s The Master.
T. And what do we think of Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello? Does he look a little bit, I don’t know, too old? I don’t know. He kind of looks a little bit like a stoned Hugh-Jackman-as-Wolverine here.
U. (That’s not necessarily, like, bad).
V. The trailer makes me want to see the film more than I had wanted to see it before, which was its job, so, like, good trailer, I guess.
Tell me about your ideal film school.
This is something we can talk about later when we discuss Film Lesson, the programmes I made for Austrian television, but let me say here that there are some very basic skills that any filmmaker must have. First of all, learn languages. One also needs to be able to type and to drive a car. It is like the knights of old who had to be able to ride, wield a sword and play the lute. At my Utopian film academy I would have students do athletic things with real physical contact, like boxing, something that would teach them to be unafraid. I would have a loft with a lot of space where in one corner there would be a boxing ring. Students would train every evening from 8 to 10 with a boxing instructor: sparring, somersaults (backwards and forwards), juggling, magic card tricks. Whether or not you would be a filmmaker by the end I do not know, but at least you would come out as an athlete. My film school would allow young people who want to make films to experience a certain climate of excitement of the mind. This is what ultimately creates films and nothing else. It is not technicians that film schools should be producing, but people with a real agitation of mind. People with spirit, with a burning flame within them.
So you certainly don’t subscribe to the belief that your films are in any way ‘art films’?
Absolutely not, they are no such thing. I dislike intensely even the concept of artists in this day and age. The last King of Egypt, King Farouk, completely obese in exile, wolfing one lamb leg after another, said something very beautiful: ‘There are no kings left in the world any more, only the King of Hearts, the King of Diamonds, the King of Spades, and the King of Clubs.’ The whole concept of being an artist is also somehow outdated today. There is only one place left where you find artists: the circus. There you can find the trapeze artists, the jugglers, even the hunger artist. Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of the mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism. I truly feel that in the world of the painter or novelist or film director there are no artists. This is a concept that belongs to earlier centuries, where there was such a thing as virtue and pistol duels at dawn with men in love, and damsels fainting on couches.
Michelangelo, Caspar David Friedrich and Hercules Segers: these men are artists. ‘Art’ is a legitimate concept in their respective eras. They are like the emperors and kings who remain the crucial figures in the history of humankind and whose influence is felt even today, something that certainly cannot be said of monarchies today. I am speaking not about the death of the artist; I just feel that creativity is perceived with something of an outdated and antiquated perspective. That is why I detest the word ‘genius’. It too is a word that belongs to an earlier time and not to our own era. It is a sick concept nowadays, and this is why with utmost caution did I once call Kinski a ‘genius’. My use of the word comes close to my feelings about the man, but the expression itself and the concept behind it is something that heralds from the late eighteenth century and just does not fit comfortably today.