Monday, June 13

To Paint Like Terrence Malick Directs

I am determined to not write a review of the new Terrence Malick film, Tree of Life. But throughout watching the movie I was awestruck at Malick's flawless and Impressionistic visual construction. A short way through I realized Malick was painting a movie.

Initially I was impressed with the consistent tempo and camera movement carried over to each shot. This movie is about slow things - touch, contemplation and texture, about living and breathing. But for all that it moves. The editing is quick. Each jump picks up on the previous camera's movement whether forward, backward or up. I suppose this could be like a Three-Dimensional implied line or direction. In this case, Malick seems to imply a forever forward or changing direction of living - one that both absorbs understanding and then creates nostalgia to linger on what just passed.

Malick also makes each of those cuts a contrast. Warm hues are always followed by cool ones. Darks by light, and so on. And the tempo of these changes is also changed. It all becomes reminiscent of the way a painter would construct form or space - articulating everything by making changes of different sizes, flatness or tone.

Everyone touches - and they touch everything, a lot. But the camera does to. It doesn't sit back, it sits on shoulders or pulls back. It crawls up stairs in a suspenseful way. The camera is just as inquisitive as the characters are in their own discoveries.

But for being such a long movie, it's impressive how economical he is. The film takes long meandering, surreal turns into the Creation, but returns back to the life of a Texas family. For all this terrain, repeated and lived in for decades by this movie's timeline, Malick still manages to make each shot a separate stroke. Each one an opportunity for something new. In this fashion we are also experiencing the changing lives of these characters - but like the way a painting would, describing something new, or a new understanding of the same thing, with each stroke.

But most of all it's Malick's four-decade preparation for the movie - and the arduous searching for accidental footage of butterflies landing on actor's hands, or birds falling out of nests (with blockbuster actors no less) - that makes Tree of Life so painterly. It's studied and demonstrates classical structure but allows in the most important part: the accidental. Which, executed by a master like Malick, appears as it should on the finished canvas: having the appearance of being flawless and anticipated, but only so because he has spent such a disciplined time examining those potentials until he was able to effectively harness and articulate with them.