‘Days of Heaven’ Malick Masterpiece


16 June 2011| No Comments on ‘Days of Heaven’ Malick Masterpiece     by Sean Chavel


Wheat fields, harvesters, sunrises, big blue skies and a Gothic mansion. At the dawn of 20th century rural-pastoral America, Richard Gere and Brooke Adams are farmhands whom claim to be brother and sister but in truth are surreptitious lovers. Gere’s kid sister (Linda Manz) tags along, offering dispassionate narration throughout. Gere lets Adams marry plantation boss Sam Shepard to escape a life of grueling work. Since they are family, they all live under the same roof after marriage. Delayed gratification seems easy when Shepard is diagnosed with an incurable cancer which means that Gere and Adams will soon inherit their property. Then Shepard is told he will live, and he plans on a long and fruitful marriage will be ahead of him. Gere and Adams continue to frolic in hidden locations, but living under a lie takes its toll. A grievous love triangle transpires.

Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and his newest film “The Tree of Life” are among the five most beautifully photographed films ever made. Believing in the principles of natural lighting, Malick’s strategy was to film as much as possible at sunrises and sunsets in what he called “Magic Hour.”

Cinematographer Nestor Almendros called this “a euphemism, because it’s not an hour but around 25 minutes at the most. It is the moment when the sun sets, and after the sun sets and before it is night. The sky has light, but there is no actual sun. The light is very soft, and there is something magic about it. It limited us to around twenty minutes a day, but it did pay on the screen. It gave some kind of magic look, a beauty and romanticism.” Almendros won an Oscar for his work, but was grateful to colleague Haskell Wexler who was credited with “additional photography.” The difference was 53 days of work versus 19.

You are not likely to find any quotes by Malick attached to any of his films. When “The Tree of Life” won the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival he did not make a speech nor an appearance. Brad Pitt sat before the press and spoke on behalf of him. Explained in one furtive statement, “The work should speak for itself.”

To find any reflections upon “Days of Heaven” you have to depend upon Almendros and other collaborators who worked on the film whom have shared stories on Malick’s unorthodox methods. Two DVD editions have previously been released including a first-class Criterion Collection disc. An anecdotal feature-length commentary is provided by film editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris and casting director Dianne Crittenden. Richard Gere participates in an audio interview.


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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