Yesterday we featured the Directors Series, the ever-expanding collection of video essays that seeks out the essence of the auteurs of our time by closely examining their entire filmographies. So far, the series’ creator Cameron Beyl has taken on the work of Stanley Kubrick, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Christopher Nolan — all titans of cinema, and with the exception of the last, all American. Given that apparent cultural inclination, Beyl’s choice of a subject for the just-begun current chapter of the Directors Series follows naturally: that uncompromising American transcendentalist of the silver screen, Terrence Malick.
It also makes good sense to focus on Malick now, given that he’s spent the past few years in a period of surprising late-career productivity. After establishing the filmmaker’s identity and main themes as well as giving a sketch of his colorful (and often only sparsely documented) life, Beyl uses his first episode on Malick to get into his “crimes of passion” movies, his 1973 debut Badlands and its 1978 follow-up Days of Heaven.
The latter seems to have solidified in the cinematic consciousness many of the basic elements of Malick’s style, including hushed yet often grandly philosophical narration; a worshipful, even religious view of the natural world; and a relentless expansion of his own visual language. But though the film won Malick a Best Director award at Cannes, he didn’t make another movie for twenty years.
After returning to filmmaking in 1998 with the James Jones-adapting World War II picture The Thin Red Line, Malick appeared to pick up right where he left off: The New World, his interpretation of John Smith’s encounter with Pocahontas, came in 2005, followed by 2011’s Palme d’Or-winning The Tree of Life. That film, deeply personal in its depiction of an American childhood in the 1940s and even more deeply personal in its zoom out to the cosmic scale, reveals as much about Malick’s obsessions as anything he’s done. Yet the startlingly many pictures he has directed since — the improvised romantic drama To the Wonder, the Los Angeles odyssey Knight of Cups, the history-of-the-universe documentary Voyage of Time, the experimental musical Song to Song, and his upcoming return to WWII Radegund — tell us, as Beyl will show, that his cinematic explorations have many more awe-inspiring places still to take us.
Watch Part 1 of the Malick study above. Find future parts on the Directors Series Vimeo page.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.