Badlands promotional poster
|Directed by||Terrence Malick|
|Produced by||Terrence Malick
Edward R. Pressman
|Written by||Terrence Malick|
|Music by||George Tipton
|Editing by||Robert Estrin|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release dates||October 15, 1973|
|Running time||95 minutes|
Badlands is a 1973 American crime film written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Warren Oates and Ramon Bieri are also featured. Malick has a small speaking part, although he does not receive an acting credit. The story, though fictional, is loosely based on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, in 1958, though such a basis was not acknowledged when the film was released.
In 1993, five years after the United States National Film Registry was established, Badlands was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Badlands is narrated by Holly (Spacek), a teenage girl living in a dead-end South Dakota town. One day she meets Kit (Sheen), a young greaser, who charms and runs away with her. Holly's narration, describing her adventures with Kit in romantic clichés, is juxtaposed as Kit's increasingly antisocial and violent behavior is slowly revealed. The two are eventually arrested; Kit is executed for his crimes, while Holly receives probation.
- Martin Sheen as Kit Carruthers
- Sissy Spacek as Holly Sargis
- Warren Oates as Father
- Ramon Bieri as Cato
- Alan Vint as Deputy
- Gary Littlejohn as Sheriff
- John Carter as Rich Man
- Bryan Montgomery as Boy
- Terrence Malick as Man at the Door (uncredited)
Malick, a protégé of Arthur Penn (whom he thanked in the film's end credits), began work on Badlands after his second year as a student at the American Film Institute. In 1970, Malick, at age 27, began working on the screenplay during a road trip. "I wrote and, at the same time, developed a kind of sales kit with slides and video tape of actors, all with a view to presenting investors with something that would look ready to shoot," Malick said. "To my surprise, they didn't pay too much attention to it; they invested on faith. I raised about half the money and executive producer Edward Pressman the other half." Malick paid $25,000 of his own funds. The remainder of his share was raised from professionals such as doctors and dentists. Badlands was the first feature film that Malick had written for himself to direct.
Principal photography took place in the summer of 1972, beginning in July, with a non-union crew and a considerably low budget of $300,000 (excluding some deferments to film labs and actors).
Though Malick paid close attention to period detail, he did not want it to overwhelm the picture. "I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum," he said. "Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time." Malick, at a news conference coinciding with the film's festival debut, called Kit "so desensitized that [he] can regard the gun with which he shoots people as a kind of magic wand that eliminates small nuisances." Malick also pointed out that "Kit and Holly even think of themselves as living in a fairy tale", and he felt that was very appropriate as "children's books like Treasure Island were often filled with violence." He also hoped a "fairy tale" tone would "take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality."
The film's score makes repeated use of the short composition Gassenhauer from Carl Orff's Schulwerk, and also uses other pieces from the Schulwerk. The same piece was used for a scene in the film Ratcatcher and used as an influence in the film Monster and Finding Forrester. A cover by Hans Zimmer entitled "You're So Cool" is used throughout the film True Romance.
Badlands was the closing feature film at the 1973 New York Film Festival, reportedly "overshadowing even Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets." Vincent Canby, who saw the film at its Festival debut, called it a "cool, sometimes brilliant, always ferociously American film"; according to Canby, "Sheen and Miss Spacek are splendid as the self-absorbed, cruel, possibly psychotic children of our time, as are the members of the supporting cast, including Warren Oates as Holly's father. One may legitimately debate the validity of Malick's vision, but not, I think, his immense talent. Badlands is a most important and exciting film." In April 1974, Jay Cocks wrote the film "might better be regarded less as a companion piece to Bonnie and Clyde than as an elaboration and reply. It is not loose and high-spirited. All its comedy has a frosty irony, and its violence, instead of being brutally balletic, is executed with a dry, remorseless drive."
Writing years later for The Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr wrote "Malick's 1973 first feature is a film so rich in ideas it hardly knows where to turn. Transcendent themes of love and death are fused with a pop-culture sensibility and played out against a midwestern background, which is breathtaking both in its sweep and in its banality." Spacek later said that Badlands changed the whole way she thought about filmmaking. "After working with Terry Malick, I was like, 'The artist rules. Nothing else matters.' My career would have been very different if I hadn't had that experience". In 2003, Bill Paxton said:
- "It had a lyricism that films have only once in a while, moments of a transcendental nature.... You've seen these kinds of moments in other films – they're really hard to pull off, and usually they come off as a pretension. [Malick] knew how to set his characters against the landscape. There's this wonderful sequence where the couple have been cut adrift from civilisation. They know the noose is tightening and they've gone off the road, across the Badlands. You hear Sissy narrating various stories, and she's talking about visiting faraway places. There's this strange piece of classical music [an ethereal orchestration of Erik Satie's Trois Morceaux en forme de Poire], and a very long-lens shot. You see something in the distance – I think it's a train moving – and it looks like a shot of an Arabian caravan moving across the desert. These are moments that have nothing to do with the story, and yet everything to do with it. They're not plot-orientated, but they have to do with the longing or the dreams of these characters. And they're the kind of moments you never forget, a certain kind of lyricism that just strikes some deep part of you and that you hold on to."
Martin Sheen stated to a newspaper in 1999 that Badlands "still is" the best script he had ever read. He wrote that "It was mesmerising. It disarmed you. It was a period piece, and yet of all time. It was extremely American, it caught the spirit of the people, of the culture, in a way that was immediately identifiable."
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains - Kit and Holly (Nominated)
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- Michel Chion, 1999. The Voice in Cinema, translated by Claudia Gorbman, New York & Chichester: Columbia University Press.
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- Beverly Walker, 1975. ‘Malick on Badlands’, Sight and Sound, 44:2, Spring, 82-3.
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