RogerBW's Blog

Badlands 29 June 2021

1973 crime, dir. Terrence Malick, Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek: IMDb / allmovie. Bad boy Kit meets good(-ish) girl Holly. Death ensues.

This film is very much a product of the Hollywood New Wave… but heavily filtered through Malick's particular style. The opening is really interesting on a meta level, as part of the transition from the post-war Marlon Brando or James Dean style of pointless adolescent rebellion into the more blatantly grotty neo-noir of the later 1970s, but my goodness it can be hard actually to watch sometimes, as all the pieces line up for the Bad Stuff to happen.

It was Malick's first full-length film, and not quite Spacek's first role but certainly the one that got her noticed. But while this is clearly part of a line with many other adolescent-rebellion films, it's also its own thing, in particular with Malick's flat direction: it's explicitly un-glamorous, without the allure of the forbidden that had characterised say Bonnie and Clyde (1967, and I'll come back to that in a future post).

There was British rebellion too, of course, but I think the British strand of this takes a different flavour. It's more the "everyone's living in slums" style, where you don't have the wide open spaces to go out into because it's England and the only places you can get to (without a car or a bike) are more of the town you're already in, so you have to do your rebelling in the same place (where everybody knows you). That's more Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and if… (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). (And then the kitchen-sink stuff and the Angry Young Men for whom I really have no time at all.)

It's worth noticing that this is two years after Straw Dogs; there are some very unconvincing, even mannered, blood effects, and it's oddly prissy about nudity and sex given some of the other stuff that was coming out at the time.

Holly's narration is blatantly self-serving, and I think intended to be perceived as such (though not everyone agrees with me); in the actual Starkweather-Fugate case by which this film was loosely inspired, each of them did their best to accuse the other of all the bad stuff. This is trying to dig in a slightly more complex direction, particularly towards the end when Kit suddenly comes to realise his duties as a (criminal) celebrity.

Roger's Aviation Corner: the plane used at the end is a Douglas A-26, a WWII light attack aircraft converted to passenger transport. (The helicopter's a Bell 47G, with the classic soap-bubble canopy.)

Is this not my usual sort of film? Absolutely. I'm getting involved in a new podcast, Ribbon of Memes, for which this was the subject of our first episode and you can hear me wittering at greater length there.

Tags: film reviews

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