In anticipation of the critical lambasting of Terrence Malick's exquisite and altogether dazzling The New World, a brief reflection on how some things never change:
What follows are quotes pulled from 1) Pauline Kael's review of Badlands, 2) The New York Times's Harold C. Schonberg on Days of Heaven, 3) Charles Taylor in Salon on The Thin Red Line, and 4) Todd McCarthy's brand-spaking new Variety review of The New World. Guess which quote belongs to which review! Winner gets nothing. Answers after the jump.
a. "Either by incompetence or willful perversity, dispenses with plot, characterization, dramatic structure and emotional payoffs in favor of...painstakingly composed pictorial diddling"
b. "It is full of elegant and striking photography; and it is an intolerably artsy, artificial film... Back of what basically is a conventional plot is all kinds of fancy, self-conscious cineaste techniques. The film proceeds in short takes: people seldom say more than two or three connected sentences. It might be described as the mosaic school of filmmaking as the camera and the action hop around, concentrating on a bit here, a bit there."
c. "Flat and colorless... exalted visuals and isolated metaphysical epiphanies are ill-supported by a muddled, lurching narrative...sprawling, unfocused. More than once, one is made to recall the old saw about how, if a scene isn't cutting together, you cut to a seagull flying overhead."
d. "They are kept at a distance, doing things for no explained purpose....as if [Malick] had taped gauze over their characters, so we wouldn't be able to get a reading of them."
So there you go: thirty years, four films, and the same old tune. The critics can have their gay-lovin' "cowboys" and their chain-smokin' Murrow. If the afterlives of Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line are any indication, people will be grappling with The New World, in all its indelible mastery and dizzying complexity for decades to come, long after the Brokeback Mountains and Good Night and Good Lucks have been consigned to film history as the somewhat flat oddities they actually are.