A Deep Study of Terence Malick’s Filmography

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Direc­tors Series” Presents Free Immer­sive Stud­ies of Stan­ley Kubrick, the Coen Broth­ers, David Finch­er, Paul Thomas Ander­son & Christo­pher Nolan

Video Essay­ist Kog­o­na­da Makes His Own Acclaimed Fea­ture Film: Watch His Trib­utes to Its Inspi­ra­tions Like Ozu, Lin­klater & Mal­ick

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.

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