One Night in Heaven
If you're looking for a working definition of nirvana in 14 syllables, try this: "Days of Heaven in restored 35mm." I have never seen this film on the big screen before; in fact, I probably haven't watched my video copy in three or four years. I ask you then: is there any better feeling than seeing a vaunted classic that is also a treasured favorite, and discovering that it's even more august and haunting and layered and imaginative than you had recalled? From those opening rainwater arpeggios and the sere, sepia photographs that dissolve into each other beneath the serifs of the titles, the film is a masterpiece even by comparison to most masterpieces. My response to the film, my immersion in its images, sounds, and tensions, were things that I felt in my body, my fingers and chest. I literally pressed my toes into the rubber soles of my shoes when Richard Gere shoveled that first mound of coal into that belching, blazing stove, and then dug in my heels, too, as he accosted his foreman. The scenes of threshing the wheatfield and of fighting off the swarming locusts stirred me at an almost glandular level. It's that kind of movie, a sensory state into which you accede, entirely.
Moments before I headed into the 7:30 showing, I learned from an e-mail that by tomorrow morning, I have to generate a list of texts for a 20th-century American literature survey course I'll be teaching next Spring. This seemed like a tall order, but then watching Days of Heaven conjured every thought and feeling I've ever had about this country and its distinctive ways of remembering, tilling, loving, divorcing, stratifying, illuminating, and abandoning itself. The whole syllabus suddenly came to me in a flash, as did ideas for two other courses I'd never even considered. Funny how the creative vision of a genuine artist can awaken and elevate a dormant brain into such sudden and wide-ranging epiphanies.
Image © 1978 Paramount Pictures, reproduced here.