Sunday, January 22, 2006

A New World Of Firewater and Reservation Casinos.

The New World
2005, USA
Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick has a way with film. He should, too, because he makes films about once every geological epoch, and they tend to last about as long. I hear the preview screenings of 1998’s The Thin Red Line are still going on, and will continue until the stars die. Malick doesn’t tell a story. He films a story, one that probably lasts so long it wraps itself around the space time continuum all the way back to the Big Bang, and then he shows us parts of it, glimpses of a greater whole too wondrous to imagine. And then we die of burst bladders and starvation in the cinema, unable to praise the film through word of mouth, and consequently his movies don’t do very well. In this respect, he reminds me of E. Elias Merhinge’s work, in that his films don’t feel like watching a movie, they feel like remembering a movie a year after you saw it, with random images coming to the fore through a haze of droning forgetfulness. Except when I remember a movie, I tend to just remember the parts when dinosaurs eat stuff, because I only like Ray Harryhausen stop-motion films of the 1960s. With Malick, all we get to remember is people looking bored in pretty scenery, like a high school kid on a school trip to the Met standing in the landscapes room. And like a school trip, I’m pretty sure this thing was upwards of ten hours long.

My favourite scene from The New World.

The New World is a re-telling of a classic love story familiar to students of American colonial history. It gives us the romantic tale of Captain John Smith, a 17th century colonist who was so smitten by the innocence and nobility of the Native Americans that he kidnapped a pre-teen girl, married her to a middle-aged tobacco farmer, then shipped her off to England to die of tuberculosis in Gravesend. Malick tells the story with great lyric beauty, a fact he unfortunately needs to emphasize by having characters read what appears to be the lyrics to bad emo songs over the entirety of the picture, like his one true dream in life was to be in Sunny Day Real Estate, but he could never quite find corduroys that fit.

Terrence Malick before going out for fair-trade coffee at Java-U.

The film is gorgeous and quite moving. Probably. Either that or the dream I had when I fell asleep during the fifth hour was gorgeous and quite moving. The first half of the dream/film concerns John Smith, played by Colin Farrell, and his introduction to the New World, a place populated by wild game and Native Americans who dress like the Orcs from Lord of the Rings. The second half reverses the set-up, bringing Pochahontas to her new world of England, a dreary place full of rain and bad dentistry. Pochahontas brings to England a sense of wonder and innocence, and the English bring the Indians anti-freeze and tax-free cigarettes. A fair trade, I’d say. Now if only someone would give me my ten hours back.


Anonymous Angerball said...

gorgeous and moving, yes
slow, yes
worth watching? definitely

11:43 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

I want to see this, but at the same time I don't because I couldn't stand Thin Red Line. Mallick is an overly self-indulgent filmmaker.

5:03 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Angerball, it's also the kind of film you hesitate to recommend to people, because you end up sounding like a snotty film nerd.

Sam - He's the very definition of over-indulgent, or he would be if Oliver Stone weren't hogging the spotlight, but unlike Stone, he's got the talent to back it up.

5:16 p.m.  
Anonymous Rin said...

All of his films are outstanding. I hate long slow films, too. To take away the slowness, would take something from the films, though. I watched both Badlands and The Thin Red Line in two halves because they were just two much to bare in one go. Yet they're still two of the first examples I think of when I think of the definition of great direction. I love him, I think his vision is amazing.

9:22 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yeah, his stuff is great. I have a friend who believes that Badlands is the greatest American film. He's not right, but he's not far wrong.

10:01 a.m.  
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