Saturday, July 31, 2010


Ostensibly, the ingredients of John Woo’s seminal “heroic bloodshed” opus ‘The Killer’ make it sound like a cinematic cocktail (or, more appropriately, a cinematic Molotov cocktail):

Take one existentially iconic hitman a la Jean-Pierre Melville, a dash of Sirkian melodrama (preferably the ‘Magnificent Obsession’ vintage), a double measure of visual imagery from early Scorsese, and a liberal helping of Peckinpahesque slo-mo. Add white doves. Blend.

Which would constitute a pretty accurate and unprecedentedly short (65 word) review, the only addition to which would be a handful of kick-ass screen shots, were it not for the fact that Woo transcends every borrowing, every homage, every lovingly crafted frame of reference and creates something that is stylistically and emotionally his own.

Or, to put it another way, Woo does what very few other directors have ever done with such a degree of success (I can think only of Tarantino offhand): he synthesises his influences so completely that while the end product is beholden on virtually every level – narratively, aesthetically, everything else that ends in “–ly” – to a plethora of other, earlier works, it nonetheless pulls together these diverse strands in a manner that either goes beyond or in a completely different direction to those selfsame influences.

In ‘Le Samourai’, Melville doesn’t have Alain Delon cauterize an exit wound by tamping gunpowder over it and applying a lighted cigarette. In ‘The Wild Bunch’, Peckinpah doesn’t stage the bunch’s climactic shoot-out with Mapache’s army against a backdrop of religious imagery, flickering candles and white doves. And, yes, Melville and Peckinpah don’t make these aesthetic choices for a reason. But Woo does. And that’s kind of the point in and of itself.

The simplest (and least critically valid) summation is that Woo doesn’t certain things – particularly with regard to his use of slow motion, freeze frames and dissolves – because they fucking look cool as fuck. Which they do. And if you can shoot an action scene that’s as balletic, iconic, dynamic and hyper-kinetic as a John Woo action scene, then screw it, you’ve earned the right to do that kind of thing for its own sake and to hell with anything deeper like thematic content, characterisation and moral imperatives.

Woo, however, does things not just because they fucking look cool as fuck but because they contribute to the thematic content of his work, because they define and develop the characterisation, and because he is concerned with the moral imperatives of honour, guilt and redemption. Then, and only then, does the fact that they fucking look cool as fuck come into play.

Let’s revisit that phrase “moral imperative”. Sometimes it’s the directors whose work appears most violent, or attracts the most controversy, who prove themselves as having the more demonstrable morality: it’s true of Sam Peckinpah, true of Michael Haneke, true of John Woo. Haneke’s approach is one of cool, detached cerebralism; his aesthetic rigidly formalist. Woo, like Peckinpah, is a more emotionally involved filmmaker. He is acutely conscious of the way men interact and the codes that bind or divide them. He understands the mindset of the outcast, the criminal, the (conventionally speaking) bad guy. He sees the wounded and compromised humanity in them. Sometimes it’s a defeated sense of humanity; sometimes it’s retrievable.

‘The Killer’ is about a thoughtful and ultra-professional hitman, Ah Jong (Chow Yun Fat) who accidentally blinds nightclub singer Jenny (Sally Yeh) during a hit that turns into a fully-fledged gun battle. During the aftermath, rather than go to ground, he undertakes the proverbial one last job in order to raise money for the cornea transplant that could restore Jenny’s sight, despite the fact that maverick cop Inspector Ying (Danny Lee) is on his trail and unaware that his former paymasters are about to double cross him.

It sounds generic, clichéd and predictable. In Woo’s hands, it’s a dementedly excessive but savagely beautiful and often ludicrously funny work of art.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"If this is your first invitation to Fight Club ..."

This is one of the funniest things I've seen in ages:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leonor Watling

The almost illegally foxy Spanish actress is 35 today.

Which is the only excuse I need for posting these pictures:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 39 Steps

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: films with numbers in the title / In category: 4 of 10 / Overall: 48 of 100

John Buchan’s 1915 novel ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ is a pacy and entertaining bit of escapism, the espionage plot of which struck a chord with pre-First World War readers (and was also, apparently, hugely popular among enlisted men during the actual conflict). It is also riddled with wild coincidences and implausible plot developments. For instance, fugitive Richard Hannay decides to go on the run to Scotland when he’s implicated in a murder for no other reason than Buchan was a Scotsman – was, in fact, the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir – and knew the locale. When Hannay blunders, entirely by chance, into the one house in all of Scotland occupied by a foreign agent, he identifies the man as his nemesis purely by deciding that there’s something a bit off about him. The denouement – in which the now exonerated Hannay, having thrown in his lot with British Intelligence, works out location of the thirty-nine steps of the title – is based on such obfuscatory gobbledegook that you’d need an entire branch of quantum physics to properly explain it. Sure, the book’s a fun (if dated) read, but its structure is so random and its narrative arc not so much join-the-dots as hide the dots and hope nobody notices that it’s enough to make a screenwriter throw everything out and just start over with the title.

Which brings us to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’, the numerical titular replacement just one of several improvements on the source material. Made in 1935 (and striking the same pre-war chord with audiences that the book did), it was – astoundingly – Hitchock’s twentieth film as director (discounting 1922’s unfinished ‘Number 13’ and 1923’s ‘Always Tell Your Wife’, for which he was uncredited) and his second straight-up masterpiece following ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ made the previous year. That film was the first full exposition of Hitch’s talent for the thriller, full of nerve-wracking suspense and brilliantly orchestrated set-pieces (his lachrymose 1956 remake is a pale imitation). ‘The 39 Steps’, by extension, provides the first complete template for the innocent accused/man-on-the-run narrative that Hitch would return to again and again through the next four decades of his career. It’s often cited as the key work of his British film period and it’s easy to see why. Personally, I prefer ‘The Lady Vanishes’, but since that doesn’t have a number in the title it’ll have to wait until business is concluded on the Operation 101010 front.

Hitchcock kicks off ‘The 39 Steps’ with a murder in a music hall during an act by the rotund and not particularly charismatic Mr Memory, an individual with a prodigious talent for retaining all manner of facts and figures. Mr Memory is Hitchcock’s first deviation from Buchan’s story, and it’s an inspired touch; likewise, the climax brings us right back to the artifice of the stage show but this time the true importance of Mr Memory is revealed. None of this is in the book. Then there’s the matter of the doomed secret agent to whom Hannay gives temporary shelter: it’s a dude in Buchan’s opening chapter. Hitch has other ideas and prefigures the later sexual tension between Hannay (Robert Donat) and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) by re-imagining the spy as the exotic and obviously pseudonymed Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim). When she’s (MODERATE SPOILER) assassinated, she stumbles towards Hannay clutching a map of Scotland. The two heavies killing time outside Hannay’s apartment leave him in no doubt that he’s next in line. Giving them the slip, he hightails it to the highlands (by way of a bit of derring do on the Forth Railway Bridge; Hitchcock and trains, anyone?) and the plot shifts up a gear.

Buchan, at this point, has Hannay variously helped or hindered by a road worker, a radical politician, an inn-keeper, an archaeologist and a fisherman. While Hitch retains the politico and the publican, he jettisons the remainder of Buchan’s subsidiary character in favour of having Hannay spend the latter half of the film handcuffed to a haughtily gorgeous blonde. A round of applause, ladies and gentlemen, for Madeleine Carroll, the first of Hitchcock’s ice maiden blonde heroines: for every Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren who came afterwards, Madeleine Carroll set the standard. (The same can be said for Robert Donat: the Cary Grant and James Stewart protagonists of Hitchcock’s later films all owe a debt to Donat’s gentleman adventurer.) Indeed, Hitch is so fixated on the chemistry – most notably in a censor-baiting (for 1935) scene in which Pamela removes her nylons while Hannay’s handcuffed hand can’t help but follow the admittedly elegant contours of her legs – he all but forgets that Hannay’s running for his life by this point.

But with Hitchcock – particularly in this kind of lightweight romantic thriller – it was always about the chase, never the catch; and what better reason for a chase than a MacGuffin? ‘The 39 Steps’ (the title means something utterly different to Buchan’s literal representation of it) has a humdinger of a MacGuffin. It’s something Mr Memory rattles off in the closing seconds and it’s all but meaningless. While you’re caught up in the hare’s-breadth, last-gasp rush of Hitchcock’s storytelling it seems to give the whole breathless affair a weight and a raison d’etre. Stop to think about it for a while and it doesn’t hold water (why risk Mr Memory blowing the gaff when you could just put the [MacGuffin] on a piece of microfilm the size of a baby’s little finger and have it out of the country in no time?). In the hands of an inferior filmmaker, the MacGuffin would stand out as a glaring flaw. Hitchcock’s genius wasn’t just that he could get away with it but that he made it intrinsically Hitchcockian.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Short Night of Glass Dolls

Posted as part of Operation 101010
giallo / In category: 6 of 10 / Overall: 47 of 100

Aldo Lado’s ‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’ is a superb, darkly compelling and unexpectedly political giallo lumbered with a nonsensical title. In the all-too-short (11 minute) interview with the director which appears as a special feature on the Blue Underground DVD, the amiable Lado explains that he’d originally titled it ‘Malastrana’, after the district of Prague the film is set in. When his producer voiced concerns that the reference would be lost on the audience, it was changed to ‘Short Night of the Butterflies’, echoing a scene in which doomed heroine Mira (Barbara Bach) likens herself to one of the butterflies pinned in a glass display case owned as an objet d’ art by her journalist boyfriend Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel). With Duccio Tessari’s ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ released at the same time, Lado’s title underwent another change at the last minute.

As with ‘Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ it’s atypical for a giallo in terms of low body count; also, the murders are played fast and sudden rather than elaborate and suspenseful. The set-up and aesthetic of the movie, at least for its first half, is more in keeping with film noir, in particular bringing to mind the dead/dying man as protagonist of Rudolph Maté’s ‘D.O.A.’ or Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

Gregory is the found in the grounds of a stately home in the opening sequence. An ambulance rushes him through the streets of Prague. The medics think he’s dead. Gregory’s voiceover desperately assures the audience he isn’t – he’s drugged, unable to move a muscle or speak a word. Rolled off a gurney and onto a mortuary slab, Gregory’s story unfolds in flashback as he waits for his autopsy. As the DVD back cover blurb has it, “Can a reporter with no visible signs off life solve this perverse puzzle before he meets his ultimate deadline?”

See what they did there?

The “perverse puzzle”, by the way, centres around the disappearance of Mira. As Gregory, against the advice of the local police, commences his own investigation – warily aided by his colleagues Jessica (Ingrid Thulin) and Jack (Mario Adorf), he comes to realise that there’s a connection between Mira’s disappearance and that of several local girls. His questions meet with silence. The families who lost their daughters seem too scared to talk to him. A cabal of influential high society and political types close ranks against him. The few leads he uncovers are terminated. Threats from the authorities are stepped up.

‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’ was Aldo Lado’s first film and he did a bang up job. An excellent cast give commendable performances (only Barbara Bach comes off as wooden, but she hardly features prominently), while DoP Giuseppe Ruzzolini (who lensed Pasolini’s ‘Teorama’) gives the whole thing a moody and atmospheric look. After a relatively slow start, Lado kicks the narrative into high gear with Mira’s disappearance. The more desperate and agitated Gregory’s pursuit of the truth, the more out of his depth he gets. Things move inexorably towards a denouement that brings to mind the grotesque, quasi-satanic goings on of ‘All the Colours of the Dark’, but acts as a perfect metaphor for the social and political injustice that Lado’s persuasively cynical script kicks against.

Definitely not your average giallo but arguably one of the best, ‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’ is highly recommended.

Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion

Posted as part of Operation 101010
giallo / In category: 5 of 10 / Overall: 46 of 100

Despite a thematic connection with Sergio Martino’s ‘All the Colours of the Dark’ and Lucio Fulci’s ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ in its depiction of a psychologically beleaguered heroine, Luciano Ercoli’s ‘Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ is in some ways an atypical giallo. Mainly in the fact that there’s no killer, black gloved or otherwise. Accordingly, the body count is low: three deaths, one offscreen (which may or may not be a suicide), the other two during the climax when (MINOR SPOILER) the villains are offed.

What ‘Forbidden Photos’ does have, and he’s as nasty a piece of work as any antagonist the genre has to offer, is the unnamed blackmailer and sex offender (Simon Andreu) who targets trophy wife Minou (Dagmar Lassander) during her sojourn at a seaside resort while her industrialist husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) is away on a business trip. Unnamed characters are the bane of the reviewer’s life, and I don’t fancy typing or even copy-and-pasting “the blackmailer and sex offender” repeatedly during the next few paragraphs, so let’s call him Bob.

Bob attacks Minou while she’s taking an evening constitutional along the shore; it’s not quite rape, but definitely a sexual assault. Before letting her go, he implies that her husband is a fraud and a murderer. Upon his return, Peter puts the matter in the hands of his friend Frank (Osvaldo Genazzini), a police commissioner, and reassures Minou that she’s safe now. His assurances are vapid and less than placatory; his mind is on a crucial business deal, and besides he half believes Minou’s dependency on tranquillizers is behind her story.

Indeed, the opening sequence, containing the only voiceover in the film (unreliable narration?), has Minou decide that the time has come to stop smoking and drinking and wean herself off the tranks. Her musings accompany a montage of her getting ready, as if for a night out, only for the sequence to end as she pours a drink, pops a pill and zones out on the sofa. That Ercoli cuts straight to Minou’s evening stroll along the beach suggests her encounter with Bob could well be a product of her addled mind.

Subsequent events, however, suggest otherwise. Minou and Peter meet their old friend Dominique (Susan Scott) at a nightclub – backstory: Dominique introduced Minou to Peter, with whom she had a thing way back when – who mentions a news story about a financier dying in mysterious circumstances. The police seem to think its suicide, but Minou – aware that Peter owed the financier a debt that could have scuppered his potentially profitable deal with a German consortium – has her doubts, particularly when she realises that the circumstances could have been engineered by technology Peter’s firm was working on.

Bob reappears and plays Minou a tape that seems to implicate Peter. She tries to buy him off, but he’s not interested in money. He torments Minou, instead, with mind games and sexual demands. But is Minou, her relationship with Peter in limbo and her curiosity secretly aroused by Dominique’s free-spirited lifestyle and collection of erotica, more attracted to Bob than scared of him? Certainly, Bob’s physical similarity to Peter hints at surrogacy. Likewise, the similarities between Minou and Dominique. Both are redheads, similar height and figure. Minou berates herself at one point for dressing like a housewife and opts for a more revealing décolletage – obviously patterning herself on Dominique who has the wardrobe of a Victoria’s secret model and the va-va-voom to go with it.

Ercoli and screenwriters Ernesto Gastaldi and May Velasco have so much fun dishing out red herrings and misdirections, as well as drawing multi-layered parallels between the principals, that payoff (though well-handled) seems a little pedestrian by comparison. Still, it offers the incidental pleasure, inimical to most gialli, of a hapless copper (here Commissioner Frank) having the whole thing spelled out for him by a secondary character.

Elsewhere, though, many gialli tropes are missing. There are no elaborate and grand guignol death scenes or rooftop chases; and although Allejandro Ulloa’s cinematography is eye-catching ‘Forbidden Photos’ lacks the off-kilter compositions and hyper-stylized imagery that characterizes the most famous examples of the genre. The performances are generally good – with Andreu a stand-out – and even if Lassender doesn’t quite hit the heights of Edwige Fenech in ‘All the Colours of the Dark’, she essays the woman in peril role competently enough.

It’s weird, really. For a giallo that sounds like it ought to disappoint on so many levels, ‘Forbidden Photos’ is never less than entertaining and a decent addition to the collection.

Double bill

It's one of those Sundays. A week shy of payday and no disposable income to hit the pub or the cinema with. A welter of black clouds about to drop their payload so no point in getting the hedge trimmer out. Stuff it; let's raid the DVD collection.

Returning belatedly to a format I enjoyed during last years Shots on the Blog, I'll be featuring a double bill on the blog today. The first movie's going on as soon as I've posted this, then I'll give myself an hour maximum after lunch to do a hit-and-run review. Ditto for the second flick.

Expect a couple of slightly less considered write-ups than usual. Expect quirky titles, murder, blackmail, eye candy, J&B and sordid shenanigans. It's giallo time!

Saturday, July 24, 2010


There’s a recording of ‘Mack the Knife’ where Frank Sinatra deviates from Brecht and Weill’s tale of white gloves, jack-knives and blood flowing in scarlet ribbons, and goes into a fantasia on all the other singers who have stamped their personality on the song:

Old Satchmo, Louie Armstrong, Bobby Darin
They did this song nice, Lady Ella too
They all sang it with so much feeling
That ol’ Blue Eyes, he ain’t gonna add nothing new

This is kind of how I feel about reviewing ‘Inception’. Is there anyone on the blogosphere (or at least that region of the blogosphere occupied by writers on film) who hasn’t written about ‘Inception’ yet? Is there a single review out there not weighted down by a comments section wherein rages debate on the implications of that already infamous final shot?

Is there anyone who doesn’t know that the film is about dream hacker named Cobb (Leonardo diCaprio) who is hired by a businessman to implant an idea in the mind of a rival? That the first half details how Cobb puts his team together and the second details their (mis)adventures in the dream state when their carefully delineated plan goes awry after their victim’s subconscious proves a little more resistant to their machinations than expected?

Is there anyone who hasn’t sung the praises of Nolan’s audacity in the set piece involving a van plunging from a bridge in the kind of slow motion that makes Peckinpah look like a speed demon? Who hasn’t marvelled at the intercutting between this and two other extraordinarily orchestrated set pieces which play out simultaneously in different levels of the dreamscape and across different lengths of time? Who hasn’t been impressed by how efficiently Nolan sets up the rules of this world of the imagination and plays scrupulously fair by them?

Have I missed any reviews that haven’t acknowledged how heavily the dialogue errs towards the expositional and remarked upon the heavy-handedness of some of the character names? (Cases in point: Ellen Page’s dream architect Ariadne, introduced in a scene where Cobb asks her to design a maze. Or Marion Cotillard’s Mal, the fact that the actress is French ramming home what the name translates as.) Have any of these reviews not written these tendencies off in the final analysis, minor quibbles compared to how goddamned entertaining, audaciously executed and beautifully shot the whole thing is? (Wally Pfister, Nolan’s regular DoP is worthy to be spoken of alongside Roger Deakins and Christopher Doyle.)

Is there anything in ‘Inception’ that isn’t absolutely flawless, from the often breath-taking visual effects and mise-en-scene (a train barrelling out of nowhere down a city street; an unblemished city of mind filled with the oddest little details; a street bending over and folding in on itself) to the uniformly excellent performance: diCaprio is as good as he’s ever been; Joseph Gordon-Levitt revisits his cerebral/cynical persona from ‘Brick’ but underpinned here with a streak of badass; Ellen Page graduates from the quirky, borderline annoying teenie of earlier roles and her intelligence shines through fiercely; Tom Hardy, unrecognisable from ‘Bronson’, camps it up to hilarious effect; Cillian Murphy, so often cast in cold or villainous roles, imbues the film with a wounded humanity; Marion Cotillard is sultry, dangerous and seductive and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way; Ken Watanabe imbues what could have been a plot function role with real gravitas; and Michael Caine, in what is essentially a cameo, proves that he’s Christopher Nolan’s good luck charm plus VAT.

In fact, the only problem with ‘Inception’ is that it’s almost too polished and accomplished. There’s none of the unpredictably that Heath Ledger’s magnificently reinvented Joker brings to ‘The Dark Knight’, crashing through Batman’s clearly defined moral rectitude and sending the movie spinning off in unexpected directions. Nor, despite the levels of the dream state and the brilliant construction of the climactic set piece(s), is the structure quite as clever or effective as that of ‘The Prestige’. Indeed, the last shot of ‘Inception’ seems almost manufactured in its ambiguity compared to the gradual and thought-provoking way in which ‘The Prestige’ slowly and slyly reveals its secrets.

None of which should detract from the fact that ‘Inception’ is one hell of a good movie. Seven films into his career and Nolan has yet to disappoint. ‘Inception’ might not be the absolute touched-by-genius best thing on his CV (that honour, as far as I’m concerned, still goes to ‘The Prestige’), but evaluated for what, after all, it is­ – ie. a big-budget tentpole studio release – it sets the bar arguably higher than any mainstream director currently at work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Charles Starkweather was an eighteen year old high school drop-out with a nihilistic attitude towards life and a bum job collecting trash. Caril Ann Fugate was thirteen; she probably liked the fact that he looked like James Dean. After Starkweather killed her mother, step-father and step-sister, she joined him on what a tabloid hack would probably describe as an eight-day killing spree.

Apprehended, Starkweather got the death penalty. Fugate was sentenced to life, but paroled after 17 years. Starkweather died in the electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on 25 June 1959. Fifty years down the line, thanks to movies, books and a particularly haunting acoustic number by Bruce Springsteen, Starkweather and Fugate are still a part of the cultural consciousness – almost a subversion of it.

Fugate is the exemplar of every parent’s fear: the impressionable and, in the final analysis, disturbingly complicit girl next door whose inner Lolita is unlocked by the swaggering denim-clad bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Starkweather is the darkest character Jim Thompson never created: a scab on the values of small town America; a Brylcreemed and dead-eyed “fuck you” to the American dream.

Starkweather and Fugate have inspired at least half a dozen movies, the first – James Landis’s ‘The Sadist’ – released just four years after Starkweather’s execution; the most recent – Bryon Werner’s ‘Starkweather’ – in 2004. Perhaps their most unexpected reflection on the big screen has been in the performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (both delivering career-making turns) in Terrence Malick’s extraordinarily poetic ‘Badlands’.

Malick’s film, as spelled out in a post-credits disclaimer, is ostensibly a work of fiction. Ergo his good-looking young sociopaths are called Kit and Holly. And while the order and dynamics of the murders – Holly’s father (Warren Oates) at their home; a friend of Kit’s at his out-of-the-way farmhouse; a couple of college kids in an underground bunker – are patterned on the actual events, other aspects diverge. The redacting of Holly’s family to just her father spares us the brutal killing of Fugate’s two-year-old step-sister. The rich man whose house Kit and Holly hide out at before their final, ill-fated dash for freedom is repaid for his courtesy by surviving their ministrations. Industrialist C. Lauer Ward – along with his wife and their maid – wasn’t so lucky.

Malick’s fictive revisions of the story find their fullest expression in Sheen’s performance as Kit. Laconic, loquacious, querulous and quasi-philosophical, Kit kicks his heels in a cinematic middle-ground between the sanguine and sanguinary. There is nothing here of Starkweather’s determinedly murderous outlook. Malick instead seems to have taken as his starting point Starkweather’s resemblance to James Dean. Notice how Kit, even under pressure, acts out the drawlingly cynical anti-hero part whenever the camera has him in close-up, or in a clinch with Holly, or exchanging shots with deputies during a dusty and high-speed chase. Even moments before his capture, he takes time to arrange a pile of rocks to mark the scene – an unprecedented example of a character organising his own set dressing.

However, the few occasions he seems lost, confused or unable to rationalise his actions with a lazy grin or a wink or a throwaway quip, he’s caught almost accidentally in long shot. Kit, in other words, is acting the lead role in a movie that will only ever be shown in the picture palace of his mind. His relationship with Holly is predicated on her similarly detached and delusive worldview. ‘Badlands’ is narrated by Holly. Not that she lends any context, insight or clarification to the events as they unfold (she even admits to not knowing why Kit commits a particular murder, taking it on trust when he claims that it would be bad luck to talk about it); rather, she talks us through the story via a litany of clichés straight out of the pages of romantic fiction. Or the pages of movie magazines. As Kit drives hell-for-leather for the border, Holly blandly reads the gossip column of one such publication. There are at least half a dozen corpses in their wake at this point, Kit is forcing a stolen car through rough terrain and the most important thing to Holly is whether there’s any truth in the rumours about Rita Hayworth’s love life.

For me, the key sequence is Kit and Holly’s forest idyll. This is where the disparity between Kit and Holly’s fantasy world and the bloody reality of Kit’s trigger-happy tendencies achieves a brief and spectacularly interrupted synthesis. Malick abandons his already slender concession to genre expectations and punctuates a montage of Kit and Holly’s sojourn among the trees with some exquisite and beautifully observational wildlife photography, “Gassenhauer” from Carl Orff’s ‘Musica Poetica’ filling the soundtrack. ‘Badlands’, already something considerably more than just a true crime flick, achieves transcendence at this point. Becomes art. I’ll go as far as saying that ‘Badlands’ gets as close as any American director has ever come to Werner Herzog’s principle of “ecstatic truth”.

Painterly, hypnotic and unforgettable, ‘Badlands’ is shot through with scene after scene demonstrating the relationship between character and landscape and exploring how the two influence and define each other. The result is some of the most striking, poignant and memorable images in the whole of American cinema. Indeed there are moments where Malick conjures visual poetry so profound in its unexpectedness that you could almost mistake ‘Badlands’ for a Werner Herzog movie. And I can’t think of any higher praise than that.