Iron rule of FilmLand: Auteurs need editors. And reclusive, self-indulgent, often brilliant auteurs really, reeeely need editors. That’s what I kept thinking when Terrence Malick went off the rails in his beautiful and flawed “Tree of Life,” which is now playing at the Palm.
Years ago, when I first saw “Days of Heaven” I was blown away by the photography, but puzzled by the often slow pace and rambling non-narrative narrative until it dawned on me what Malick had created: Instead of the usual exposition by dialogue, he had created a Movie = moving picture(s).
Like “Days,” “Tree” also uses images and very brief narrative snippets as a form of poetic language thick with layered meanings that arise from the juxtapositions of the images. That device is particularly effective and powerful when used to recreate the way our memories work, with flickering, fragment-scenes from the past coming into focus, one after the other, seemingly making no sense until they’re begin to form a more complete tapestry.
In “Tree,” the “remembrance of things past” evocation of the main character’s childhood in a small town in the 1950s is exquisitely realized by those “moving pictures.” You can almost hear the bees in the hot summer flowers, feel the early evening breeze on your cheek, hear the creak of the huge oak tree in the front yard bearing the weight of the young boy in the rope swing that’s tied to its limb. The images recreate the sensory flashes caused by the way our own memories work. And perfectly illustrate the epigram from Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel,” “. . . O lost and by the wind grieved, ghost come back again.”
And the fragment images also recreate the way our own personal narratives are so poorly understood, how little we know of our parent’s real lives, for example, or how unclear we are of our own journey and how hard it is to sort it all out as we’re living it and how nearly impossible it is to clearly see all of it much later. Our lives aren’t a neatly organized open book, but more akin to a folio of single pages that keep falling out and have to be stuck back in higgely-piggely so the coherence keeps changing with each reshuffling. And if a page or two gets lost, the meaning will forever remain obscure.
Unfortunately, in retelling the story of the narrator’s search for meaning in his life, Malick stuck in an endlessly long, visually beautiful but pointless “creation of the universe,” “2001-type” “trip” that ended with an encounter between two dinosaurs, one of which scampers away, while the audience snoozed or scratched their heads and wondered if this were some kind of “Candid Camera” auteur joke. And then ended his film with his version of heaven: a flat, wet beach at sunset (?) sunrise (?) with friends and family wandering around with love in their hearts and silly grins on their faces, an image so clichéd I kept looking around for the puffy clouds and harps.
In short, “Tree of Life” is an amazingly flawed film in need of an Editor who would constantly keep asking Malick: “O.K. What is the Basic Question here?” And when Malick wandered off to doodlebug in the Realm Of Precious ME, the Editor would get out the scissors.
But, if you love film, I still recommend you see it. Like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when Malick’s good, he’s very, very, very good and the movie within a movie in this movie is an amazing piece of visual poetry with powerfully realized performances and drop dead gorgeous photography – the work of a genius auteur with a singular vision. And in need of an Editor.
The dysfunctional State Legislature went by themselves to the Marriage Counselor because their Republican spouse refused to go and kept saying, “I’m not going to change anything. I don’t have anything to do with the mess this marriage is in. It’s all your fault and since you’re the one with the problem, you go solve it yourself.”
So they did, passing a draconian budget because the state’s Republicans have all taken a Blood Oath, not to the state’s Constitution, but to Grover Norquist, so even if the state falls into wrack and ruin, they will not ever, ever vote even so much as one tax on gazillionaires or corporation or anybody, ever, ever. Indeed, they wouldn’t even simply vote to keep taxes at their current levels or even allow voters to vote on keeping those current levels which would have prevented further cuts to schools and universities. Nope, not their problem.
So, when you see your kid’s schools being really hurt, or your favorite state park is closed, or know any poor, old/young, sick people that will now be kicked to the curb (so as to keep even one millionaire from paying a modestly increased tax on his yacht) you can call up Sam Blakeslee and say, “Hey, thanks Sam.”
Meanwhile, the Dems managed to stick in some “taxes,” like requiring Amazon.com pay sales tax for purchases made by Ca. residents (good luck with that, I’m sure that’s heading to court as I type) and includes a few bumps to car registration fees (a whopping (?) $12 a year. Gosh, be still my heart and don’t ask why I should be charged $12 a year for my little car while a millionaire isn’t getting dinged for his yacht – go ask Sam that question.)
And so it goes. If the smiley-faced budget’s projected windfalls don’t come to pass, the cuts will get deeper yet. The happy news is the voters are to blame for whatever falls down on them. After all, they elected all those Grover Norquistians. And Grover, as you know, wants The State drowned in the bathtub, so he doesn’t care if you drown along with it.
If you’re unhappy about that blood oath, hey, if you voted for Sam, you’re getting exactly what you asked for. So, shush up.
It’s All Moot Anyway
Well, not to worry about any of it. Gay marriage is now legal in New York. Stand back. The Republic will crumble into ruin shortly.