Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Classic Cinema: Badlands

Badlands recently got the Criterion Collection treatment, and I cannot recommend this film enough. Terrence Malik's first major movie, made in 1973, is a masterpiece that still holds up.

Our introduction to main characters Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) are telling. Kit is collecting garbage and hovers over a dead dog without a hint of emotion, and Holly is in her front lawn twirling a baton-- how much more innocent can you get? This couple embarks on a killing spree road trip which is loosely based on the real-life late 1950s Starkweather-Fugate killing spree.

It's not a particularly gory-violent film, but it's impact lies in the bursts of violence set against a quiet background. It's actually a quiet movie in many respects. Viewers are lulled into the story by the use of beautiful scenery (more on that later), some subtle humor peppered throughout, and a main theme song, Carl Orff's Schulwerk-Grassenhauer, that is playful and childlike, which is perfectly deceiving and strangely perfect. Kit and Holly build this detached world around themselves and when someone threatens it, Kit attacks. They are not socially awkward loners, though. Kit is adept at cultivating a James Dean persona, thinking that his charm will keep him afloat, which it does to a degree. Eventually, Holly just becomes bored, as a fifteen-year-old girl would.

The performances by Sheen and Spacek may very well be the best of their respective careers and is not to be overlooked, but, what I truly love about the movie is the visuals. I could not write up Badlands without mentioning Art Director Jack Fisk. I believe that he's as much responsible for the greatness of this film as Malik. Fisk is a master as conveying the simple beauty and struggle of landscape. Check out There Will Be Blood for further confirmation of this man's genius. (Also, Fisk met his future wife, Sissy Spacek, on this film.)

If you're already a fan of the film, be sure to checkout the 40 minute making-of documentary on this disc, which includes present day interviews with Sheen, Spacek, and Fisk.
Find it in the catalog!