08. Classmate Edward Brackman claims the extensive voiceover was used to patch up holes in the narrative.
The audience is guided on the strange journey by Holly and Kit in "Badlands" by Sissy Spacek's evocative and not particularly plot driven voiceover, but according to Jake Brackman, it was more by necessity than design. "There were so many holes in the storytelling because of the constraints and difficulties of the shooting that it entailed a tremendous amount of fooling around with the voice-over to tell the story, and also to conceal the expositional nature of the voice-over by putting in a lot of oblique voice-over that was not at all expositional," he told GQ. "It was like patching the holes in the road."
But speaking to Sight & Sound, Malick says he had a very specific purpose for Holly's narration. "There is some humor in the picture, I believe. Not jokes. It lies in Holly's mis-estimation of her audience, of what they will be interested in or ready to believe. She seems at times to think of her narration as like what you get in audio-visual courses in high school. When they're crossing the badlands, instead of telling us what's going on between Kit and herself, or anything of what we'd like and have to know, she describes what they ate and what it tasted like, as though we might be planning a similar trip and appreciate her experience, this way."
And certainly, to this day, both Spacek and Sheen relish even the brief morsels of dialogue they got in the film. "The way he used narration was so amazing. On the screen, you'd see the flattest, most uninteresting landscape you've ever seen in your life, and the voice-over would be, "Kit told me to enjoy the scenery. I did.' Or 'Kit shot a football. He said it was excess baggage.' I don't typically remember dialogue years after making a film, but periodically in life, someone says something, or something happens, and I'll get a cue from 'Badlands.'" Spacek told GQ. Sheen adds, "I couldn't tell you what I said yesterday, but that dialogue, oh yeah. Easily. Easily."
09. Terrence Malick makes a cameo in the film.
The reclusive, press shy director did the unthinkable and actually appeared in "Badlands." It's hard to believe but as Martin Sheen recalled to GQ, the director stepped in when an actor didn't show and had serious thoughts about re-shooting the scene with the actor convincing him not to. "One day an actor didn't show up to play a part, so Terry did. He's so self-conscious, and he did not want to be in the film, and he told me he was going to re-shoot his character. I assured him that I would never shoot that scene with anyone but him. We'd had this extraordinary time together, and I knew that he would never go on camera again the rest of his career," Sheen said. Take a look at the scene below (via FILMdetail).
10. Those behind the film aren't convinced Warner Bros. knew what they had when they picked up "Badlands" after it premiered to rave reviews at the New York Film Festival.
While we're only left with anecdotal evidence, by most accounts "Badlands" was the star of the New York Film Festival where another film you might have heard of, Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets," also premiered. Peter Biskind in Vanity Fair says Malick's film wound up "overshadowing" Scorsese's effort, with the Guardian saying pretty much the exact same. But either way, Warner Bros. knew there was something great about both films and picked them up, though to hear it now, "Badlands" might have disappeared into obscurity.
"We saw it and we were knocked out by it. It was a new voice, as far as I was concerned," former Warner Bros. President John Calley told GQ, maintaining they liked the film as is. "I don't think we would have dared ask for changes. It would be like calling Fellini and saying, 'Hey, Fred, I think she should have bigger tits.'"
But Jack Fisk is less convinced that Warner Bros. -- who GQ says paid $1 million for "Badlands" and picked up "Mean Streets" on the same day -- knew what they there dealing with. "I think that Warner Bros. didn't really know what they had. Terry had done a wonderful ad; it looked like the cover of a true-romance magazine. Warner decided not to use that, but to use a silhouette of Kit and Holly in a tree instead, and they put all these reviews around it. The ad looked like a medicine bottle, like it was supposed to be this movie that was good for you."
And according to Assistant Director Bill Scott, another film on the WB slate took their attention away from Malick and Scorsese's film altogether. "Warner Bros. had 'Badlands,' they had 'Mean Streets,' and they had 'The Exorcist,' and all three opened at virtually the same time in Westwood. Obviously, 'The Exorcist' was going to make millions and millions based on the first few days of the show, so Warner Bros. pulled their resources off 'Badlands' and 'Mean Streets.'"
But producer Edward Pressman Jr. persisted saying, "We got them to re-release it by testing a new campaign in some smaller markets—Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas. It was possible to do that then." And slowly, but surely, word about the film got out.
11. "Badlands" was a life changing experience for almost everyone involved
Fist fights, fires, a never ending production schedule -- if they had to do it all again, pretty much everyone involved would be back in a heartbeat.
“We were in Colorado, a crew member stopped by from another film, and I remember thinking ‘They’re making a film somewhere else?’ We had so little experience we didn’t know that Terry was working in an unorthodox way. But crew members would disappear. It was a normal shoot at the beginning, and then it kept going, and then the crew got smaller. My trailer became the crew truck, and the honey wagon. My husband pointed out that when we left, Terry was strapped to the front of a car with no hood, and he was driving through the prairie with a wild look in his eye. Badlands came at an impressionable time, and it swept me away, it was Jack [Fisk] and Terry’s influence that affected me. And I thought after it ‘if I never do another film, I’ll be a part of something more wonderful than I could imagine, and that’s enough.’ After Badlands, I realized film is a director’s medium, and I chose my directors carefully,” Sissy Spacek recalled at a recent LACMA screening of "Badlands."
"I will never be better than I was in 'Badlands,'" Martin Sheen succinctly told The Guardian. But as always it's something much more ephemeral that will remain -- more than any of the stories -- with Malick’s classmate Jake Brackman telling GQ:
"There is kind of a myth associated with 'Badlands:' You put together this money, and you're completely an outsider, and you make a picture that's critically acclaimed, and now you're on the map in the movie business. A lot of people tried to do it but couldn't. That whole myth is just 'Badlands.'"
"Badlands" is currently available on DVD & Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection.