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Monday, March 20, 2017

We Need to Stop Treating Terrence Malick Films Like Necessary Evils

I've never liked the idea of liking a movie out of obligation, appreciating a movie because a particular filmmaker is so "respected" and "creates real art" that we need to "appreciate" it. Seriously, what kind of holy sanctity are we bestowing upon these mere mortal and usually male filmmakers that we just have to accept any garbage they throw at us? Nah, I'm not about that life.

I thought of this as I stepped out of a press screening with a bewildered look on my face after watching Terrence Malick's latest vapid drama, SONG TO SONG. Let's just say, my expectations were low and they were basically met, so I wasn't exactly disappointed. At this point, I'm just doing it to myself; I realize that. But what was interesting about this particular post-Malick experience is that people were flowing out of the theater outwardly complaining about what they just saw, dismayed that they had to endure another film from this guy. So I thought that, finally, a Malick film was about to be slaughtered by critical reviews. Instead, the reviews I've read so far have been tepid at worst, with a caveat implying that the movie is not great but should still be considered mandatory reviewing. A New York Times read, "This may not be a film to love, but it is a film to see." Ughhh we're doing this again.

No, SONG TO SONG isn't great. It's not even good; it's excruciating. Why is it so hard to say that out loud? And why in the world would you recommend it if you don't even care for it?

I thought (read: hoped) that we had moved beyond the trend of "admiring" films and deeming them unwatchable classics to revere for generations to come after finally admitting that the Academy, often considered the barometer of quality, has definitely awarded some terrible films, boosting the egos and careers of sub par filmmakers. We as critics do not have to enable that. Instead, we need to spend that energy boosting the careers of talented filmmakers like Kimberly Peirce, Kasi Lemmons, Jordan Peele, Patty Jenkins, Rodrigo Garcia, Mira Nair, and more who deserve their due. We need to do better.


Brittani Burnham said...

Great post. Malick is a hard filmmaker to criticize because his fanbase is so huge...somehow. I remember hating Tree of Life, the first one of his films that came out while I was actively blogging and it was a bit lonely lol. I can't make excuses for his filmmaking. I hate it. Worse, I hate that other directors try to emulate it.

Melody said...

Brittani, re: TREE OF LIFE. I had deeply mixed feelings while watching it. There are some moving & stunning moments, but moments do not a great or even good film make. Basically, I agree with the LA Times, which hit the nail on the head for me re: recent Malick work...except for ONE phrase that I'm sure Candice hates (in CAPS): "While Malick's great ability holds us for a time, it is finally not enough to compensate for a lack of dramatic involvement — those eschatological quandaries tend to overwhelm the story. "The Tree of Life," its enormous advantages notwithstanding, ends up a film that DEMANDS TO BE ADMIRED, but cannot be easily embraced." Demands? Like "Admire Me, damn it, simply because I'M MALICK!!?" Ugh. But BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN and the THIN RED LINE, albeit old films, are why he has a fan base. I assume you've seen these. They are the reason for The Malick Reverence, however misplaced it may be. These films are the only way to understand why Malick is held in such high regard and why people so hopefully flock to his work. I couldn't get through KNIGHT OF CUPS. I didn't even try with TO THE WONDER. I can appreciate the cinematography, framing, lighting, actors...and still know when it's not a very good film. I was weaned on early Malick by parents who had no idea I'd grow up to be a filmmaker influenced by his early work. To Candice's point, other filmmakers absolutely deserve their due. But don't underestimate how much the masterpieces of Malick have deeply influenced Kimberly Peirce, Kasi Lemmons, Jordan Peele, Patty Jenkins, Rodrigo Garcia, Mira Nair, and more...

Nietzsche said...

Mainly watched, because I live in Austin. Rather have 10 root canals than watch again.

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