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'Badlands' Arrives On Criterion: 10 Things We Learned About The Terrence Malick Classic

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist March 20, 2013 at 4:22PM

When you think of lovers and killers on the lam, you think of roadtrip movies like “True Romance,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Bonnie & Clyde” or "The Getaway." But when philosopher, journalist and renaissance man turned filmmaker Terrence Malick tackled the genre for his debut picture, he created a film more interested in innocence (and its loss) and love than the crimes and acts of violence occurring within the story based on Charles Starkweather’s late ‘50s killing spree. A lyrical and impressionistic take on a troubled young killer and the girl that falls for him -- perhaps all the more chilling for its beautiful imagery and sublime/naive view of life that some of us still argue is his finest work to date -- “Badlands” would launch the career of one of cinema’s most enigmatic and inscrutable filmmakers who would soon stop talking to the press or allowing his photo to be taken.
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Badlands

6. The iconic music in Badlands’ was originally intended for Irvin Kershner’s “Dirty Harry,” which Malick was hired to rewrite the script of.
The indelible piece of music used in “Badlands” is Carl Orff’s “Gassenhauer.” The way Malick came upon the piece of music points to one of the historical bits of trivia about the filmmaker.

“Terry had heard the Carl Orff music earlier when he was he was writing a movie for Irv Kershner,” Billy Weber revealed on the Criterion Extras. “And Kershner knew the music and played it for Terry and said he was thinking of using it. It was a movie that never got made. And so Terry fell in love with it and thought it would be perfect for Badlands.”

Badlands, Martin Sheen

The Irvin Kershner project (he directed “The Empire Strikes Back”) was an aborted attempt at “Dirty Harry.” In his time studying film (pre-“Badlands”), Malick worked as a rewrite man and helped shape, among others, an original script for "Dirty Harrry" intended for Kershner to direct. It never happened -- the now famous 1971 movie was eventually directed by Don Siegel with a script by Harry Julian Fink said to have featured some uncredited rewrite work by John Milius -- but both Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra were considered for the role of Harry Callahan. One would love to look at that script and see if there were any similarities, if any, to “Badlands.”

What Malick loved about Orff’s song is that it was performed by children and had a naive and innocent quality to it perfect for “Badlands.” While the movie made the piece of music iconic, it’s perhaps better known by modern audiences for its use within another lovers-on-the-lam film. In a Quentin Tarantino-esque move, Tony Scott nicked and reappropriated the Orff piece for “True Romance,” only in his movie it’s slightly different, reworked by that film’s composer Hans Zimmer and retitled “You're So Cool.”

7. The final shot of “Badlands” was bought archival footage.
Weber says for the final shot of the movie, Malick wanted to depict the disembodied voice of Sissy Spacek to be flying through clouds. Not being able to afford the shot, he bought stock footage instead.

“We saw this footage, originally shot in 65mm from the 1970s action thriller, ‘Ice Station Zebra,’” Weber said. “It was meant to be plate shots meant to be inserted with planes overtop of it. And you could buy it, so we picked one we really liked and bought one that was like 30 feet.

This article is related to: Terrence Malick, Badlands, Criterion Collection, The Criterion Collection, DVD / Blu-Ray, Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek


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