absence of malick

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this is an article about Terrence Malick's works who is an American filmmaker that is written by David Handelman and this is his first piece for California magazine.


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Abscnceof MalickWhy, at the height of his talent, would a highly acclaimed director simply disappear? investigarive An biography BYDAVID HANDELMAN

Youknow, uh,JromwhatI knowof Tbrry, he particularlywant an articlcwitten wouldn't aboulhim, so,I, I probablywouldn't, uh, want to inaolue m7self. Sorryto be,I mzan, I lwpe1ou don'ttalcc ofmsc....I just know that- in gennal- he's . .goneawfully far to . sort oJ, uh, to stal auay Jrom all sortsoJ things. -Wallace Shawn ERRENcE MALICK HAs always gone awfully far to stay away from all sortsof things. After playing high school 'and football in Texis miking allconference, dropped sportsfor more he sober pursuits when he got to Harvard in 1961 He won a Rhodes scholarshio . to Oxford but didn't complete his graduatethesis.He landeda'plum assignment for the New Yorker but never finished it. He lectured in philosophy a1 MIT for a year but, feeling he "didn't have the sort of edge one sh-ould have on the students," he turned to filmmaking. What the hell. "I'd alwaysliked the movies in a kind of naive way," he said later. "They seemed no less improbable a career than anything else."So in 1969Malick went to film school and, barely three years later, managed to raise $300,000 to finance his first feature, the coolly ironic Badhnds. The story of how this rookie efort got made is a classic-perhaps tie classic-Hollywood myth. Not because Malick ran around for funding, not because the crew was nonunion, disjointed and working for slave pay, not even because the writer-director was only 29 and came out of nowhere, but becauseBadhnds, which was based on Charles Starkweathey's,1958 killing spree,is so good. Plenty ofcheapo hor-

DaaidHandclman wites ofunabout Holfijrst uood. This is his fieuJor California.104 N o v E M B ER 1985

ror or sex movies are made under simi- of five years Malick had achieved the lar circumstances,often under the mis- total control every filmmaker covets. guided hope that the trash will turn a Predictable,becauseat the end of that profit, enabling everyone involved to time Malick, as he had with football, pursue his "art." Terry Malick used the journalism and teachingbefore, simply $300,000 to make his art. Vincent walked away from it all. Canby called. Badhnds 'hugely effecIn 1979Terry Malick disappeared. tive," "always ferociously American,' "He's the ultimate phantom,o says and the film's moody vistas, averted Bnnl Hills Copcoproducer Don Simpglancesand deadpannarration quickly son, who was Paramount'svice presimade it a cult hit. dent of production during Da2s of It took Malick five years to Droduce Hcaam. "Last I heard, he was in some a successor, but 1978'sDaTsof Heaocn, garret in Francewith no electricity and about a trio of drifters lost among the no phone. There are so many rumors wheat fields of 1916 Texas. won him about him*it's like Ken Kesey's fake Best Director at Cannes and even suicide.In fact, I wouldn'tbe surprised wider acclaim. Newsweek describedthe if he were dead." frlm as "hauntingly beautiful...unWell, not quite. In 1983 Malick did ashamedly poetic, brimming with repay Harvard for a twenty-year-old sweetness and bitterness,darknessand loin, and early in 1984 he ieportedly light," and normally cautious Varicty showed up at a friend's wedding. But called it "one of the qreat cinematic what he's been living on, and whether achievements of the- last decade." he'sworking on movies, remains shadClearly, Malick had become someone owy. In 1983 VanityFarr reported that to watch. Paramount was paying him a yearly reBut asi.de from curious cameos in tainer and had yet to seea script. But a both his films - he played an architect uiually garrulous Paramount executive in Bolhnds, a farmer in Days of gets cagey on the subject. uWe have an Hcaom-Malick has maintained abso- understanding, that's all. He's indepenlutely no public profile. He hasn't even dently wealthy-oil money. There's no granted Ern on-the-record interview story." Except that Malick's friends since 1974. Says Brooke Adams, who contradict this claim. *Ierry's dad did made her screen debut in Days of work for Phillips Petroleum," says one, Heaom: "It takes him a lot of energy to "but they weren't rich. Terry just lives explain himself.'In fact, after Badhnds, austerely.' Malick was so drained by the experiEven Malick's reason fior leaving is ence he swore he'd never direct again. disputed. Martin Sheen, who starred saysMalick withdrew from "On the set",it seemslike the sky's the in Badlands, limit," he said in one of his last'inter- Hollywood because"he felt he couldn't views, Sut it usually comes out as ruD(- grow here. There are too many distraciery becausewhen you seewhat you've tions. Too many dead-end streets.oYet done you're aware of what you could Orion executive vice president Mike do if you knew how. The hardest thing Medavoy, Malick's first agent, says, uI to accept is that it leavesyour control so don't think Terry's encounter with Holquickly." An ironic but predictable statement, Tlu autzuras dropout: on tlu Badlands set to be sure. Ironic, becausein the space with Martin Slun


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lywood was negative.He went through took off at the end of his junior. year, chris, an oil speculator, and together a deeper philosophical questioning. traveled to Germany, met Heidegger they raised $soo,ooo.' Badtan& exSooneror later, he'll pop up, and they'll and translatedhis Essence Reason."" ..uiiu. producer paut witti.*, of ...ulr, come out of the woodwork for him.n and Phi Beta Kappa, 'It was the one time in Holywood thai - -Straight-A Pu, will they? Screenwriter Jacob Malick graduated in 1966 and, paitly you could get financing for 'difficult' Brar kman, who went to Harvard with to avoid the draft, pursued and was projects.o Alienation films were bis. Malit:k and was executiveproducerof awarded a Rhodes scholarship. But he th.anks to Easy Rider and, Fiue Edy Dg2s of Heaaen, says, "Some people in hated Oxford and said talking to the Picces. Hollywood think Terry makes'esoteric' British "was like trying to talk underMalick shot his first feature in pic t ur es , h i c h i s a b i g ' u h -o h .' " w water." A rift with his thesis adviser eastern colorado between August and Out of touch with people for years, developed_which made.it impossible_tooctober of r972. He reporteily gave Malick still inspires a dome of silence complete his p_hilosophydegree. He investors no g'uaranteeof comple"tion that is Mafra-loyal, as if investigating then turned to Latin American studies or distributioi, paid himself no'salary his whereabouts mieht shatter somi instead and bought some paperbacks and his actors and crew not much fragile, cherishedobjet d'art. Adams, on cinematog.raphy. He.was in his early more. The costumer, mechanic and Sheen, Medavoy and Brackman are nventies,and he was decidedly.unde- Malick himself all enjed up acting in among the only Malick associates who cided about what he wanted to do. the film. will consentto discuss him. More com- . (During.a spring.breakfrom Oxford, As not only director but producer, mon is the reaction of producer Bert he traveled P..91?i-".u,ith two friends, Malick suddenly found himseif dealing Schneider:"Malick's a great man and a one of them Bill weld, now the u.S. at- with insurance costs, auto maintegreat director. I'm sorry he isn't mak- torney for-the District of Massachusetts. nance, unionizers, ,hotgr..r-*ielding ing films. That's all I have to say."The crammed into a tiny Fiat, drivingend- landowners and a mutino-uscrew. Hii same response comes from Days of lessmiles, the three were unable to de- first cinematographer, Brian probyn, Heauen star Richard Gere. Diinevis cide even what hotel to check into. ult wouldn't shooi what Malick wanr;d; Michael Eisner, Harvard professor wasn't a question of conflicting wills," claiming the scenes wouldn't cut to*kobyn's Stanley Cavell and Malick's'ex-wife, wrld says now. "There was no will at gether. assistant, Thk Fujibrother and agent. Badlands costar all."), moto, then iook over, but also le'ft. ., _ SissySpacek,on the other hand, addsa While at Oxford, Malick had been Some equipmenr was damaged by the cautious condition: "I iust want to w-orking. weekends as a string.er for fi.lm's firt sequence.when-a special-sufiered checkthis with Terry first. Do you know Neutsweells London bureau. when he effects man severe 6.rnr, where I can get in touch with him?" finally decided . to leave _s.9hoof he Malick, unable to asord a helicopter, To learn what became of Terrence managed_toland a spot in Lt'lsMiami sent him to the distant hospital by-car, Malick depends on finding out first bureau. But he soon left and knocked andmanycrewmembersquitinprotest. where he came from. Like his protago- around Bolivia, supposedly profiling For the last two weeks-of the shoot, nists, MaIick drifted into situations Rdgis Debray for the New Yorker.In the entire crew consisted of the direcwhich stirred him into action. He was 1968his academicbackground got him tor, the directorrswife and a locat hieh born on November 30, 1943, in Ot- a lecturing position at MIT. There, he schoolstudent. Then Malick .u.n out-of tawa, Illinois, and grew up in Waco, mustered $1,100, made a movie and money while editing and had to take a Texas, which he latir said'was full oi was accepted to the first-ever class of rewrite job to finish his movie. when snake handlers and hard-shelled Bao- the American Film Institute. Later, he shown to the New York Film Festival tists. His parentsmoved to Bartlesville, married Jill Jakes, an assisrantof Ar- selectionboard months later, the print Oklahoma, where his father helped thur Penn, who eventually became an broke, the sound was muddy, the picdevelopa food substitutemade of yeast ACLU lawyer, and the two lived for ture was out of focus. yei Badland


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