Monday, May 01, 2006

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.

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7 Comments:

Blogger tim r said...

Right on. Those "rainwater arpeggios", by the way, are the most beautiful thing Ennio Morricone never wrote: it's "Aquarium" from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. I'm not sure whether to envy or pity Malick's composers -- they get the credit, but it's S-S, Fauré, Mozart and Wagner who put in the hours!

2:56 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Days of Heaven did that for me, too, when I saw it three years ago: watching it, a whole second book project arrived as if bestowed upon me.

Might be time to watch it again, because it's going to have a different impact on me now, given what I've been mulling over for awhile...

9:17 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger David Shultz said...

What I'd give to see that on the big screen...

One day there should a two day Malick event in New York City. His movies are meant to be seen in theatres.

2:30 AM, May 07, 2006  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

I saw The New World in the cinema just a few days ago (it was only released here last week, i saw it opening day) and it was glorious on the big screen. I hope to one day see Days of Heaven like you have. It's in my top 10 of all-time and DVD is just not enough.

4:03 AM, May 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, where do you get the wonderful stills you use on your blog and your website? Do you have a secret supplier or do you make them yourself?

7:42 PM, May 10, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Tim: As so often, thanks for saving me from myself. I'm so musically ignorant that I'm liable to give credit to anyone for anything. I do love the music, though. And here's a curio: a hip-hop-soul track built on top of an "Aquarium" sample. Creative inspiration or velvet painting? You decide.

@All Days of Heaven fans: The pleasures of community! I love this movie even more, the more I think about it.

@Anonymous: Secret image suppliers?... If only I were so connected. The images I use are all, for the most part, taken from publicity sites like the OutNow! Image Galleries or About.com, all linked from the "Photographs" tab on IMDb; or, for older movies, from DVD-review or screen-capture sites like DVDBeaver; from random Google image searches; or, on occasion, from screen captures on my own DVDs. Anything more complicated or better-connected than this I wouldn't even understand.

4:10 PM, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a gentleman and I thank you.

11:32 AM, May 23, 2006  

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