The Frances Farmer Show #21: VIFF 2019


Sean and Evan and Melissa and Lawrence discuss some of the films they saw at the 2019 Vancouver International Film festival. Movies discussed include: Amanda (Mikhaël Hers), Wet Season (Anthony Chen), I Was at Home, But. . . (Angela Schanelec), Fourteen (Dan Sallitt), The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu), Parasite (Bong Joonho), Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne), and A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick).

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Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017)


Making its way to Seattle last week for an unheralded run at the Pacific Place, then quickly dropped to a single show in town and shunted off to Tukwila’s Parkway Plaza was the latest film from the most singular artist working in mainstream American film today. As with every Terrence Malick film since his reemergence with 1998’s The Thin Red LineSong to Song has been met with baffled derision by much of what passes for the Hollywood intelligentsia, that dense Ouroboros of movie reviewers, Oscar bloggers and self-appointed box office gurus that pass as journalists in our debased world. The complaints are familiar, cheap and lazy, ultimately sourced in the fact that Malick doesn’t make movies like They expect movies to be made. Unable to conceive of possibilities beyond their narrow imaginations, his refusal to conform is viewed alternately as pretension or incompetence (see for example Christopher Plummer’s whining about Malick during The Tree of Life‘s Oscar campaign that Malick didn’t know how to edit films, a complaint (I believe, perhaps uncharitably) ultimately sourced in the fact that Malick cut out most of Plummer’s performance in The New World). Malick doesn’t make conventional movies, and it’s easier to snark about twirling and poetry (the nerve!) than it is to wrestle with what he does make.

Continue reading Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017)”

Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

Bale stairs

Here, Sisyphus meets John Bunyan’s Christian.

Or something like that.

Terrence Malick, for me, is a bit like T. S. Eliot, a forager through resonant, mythic fragments, pieced together into something that, while offering a reader a whole Thing and an often intensely emotional experience, also spins that reader off into multiple directions at once.

With something like “The Hollow Men,” for example, I first trace the Fisher King threads, and then I follow a Dante and Beatrice path, and then I’m sent to re-think Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, and then to grasp at remnants from Julius Caesar. All of these literary references are in “The Hollow Men,” and knowing them enriches my experience of the poem. But then, I also find that the poem works on a level that doesn’t seem to need any particular literary knowledge. Many of my students who’ve never read any of those other works love Eliot’s wasteland vision, those hollow whispering men; they can take the line “not with a bang but a whimper” and savor it. Just for itself. That line reaches directly into the feelings.

And so there’s meaning and there’s meaning and there’s meaning. Eliot is someone I will read my whole life and still find dark corners – that will very suddenly light up. Even Eliot himself, when a reader noted that he must have taken the “shadow” lines in “Hollow Men” from a poem by Ernest Dowson, agreed, “This derivation had not occurred in my mind, but I believe it to be correct, because the lines… have always run in my head.” It delights me to understand that even an artist cannot know everything contained in their own work. Eliot was an artist who was a receptacle who then poured himself into his work, at a conscious and unconscious level.

Malick is like that, I think, an artist, giving himself to his work utterly, and the result is a rich work that grows only richer. It is a richness that will make watching and re-watching and re-watching his films a life-long pleasure.  Continue reading Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)”