Malick goes deeper underground

Posted by · 11:57 am · June 10th, 2011

First up, some good news for our British readers: the distribution wrangles surrounding “The Tree of Life” have been resolved, and Fox Searchlight will bring the film to UK screens on July 8. Not much longer until you can join the conversation.

Given Terrence Malick’s usual work rate, it feels almost perverse to begin talking about his next film while his current one is still in theaters, but that’s precisely what his new go-to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki does in a fascinating Sight & Sound interview.

So far we know little about the untitled work, already in post-production, beyond its all-star cast of Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Jessica Chastain and Rachels Weisz and McAdams, but Lubezki reveals this much: if you thought “The Tree of Life” was esoteric, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

He tells Geoffrey Macnab:

We shot The Tree of Life four years ago. We’ve shot another movie since — it’s even more abstract. It doesn’t have a title — we call it ‘Project D’. If The New World was a more narrative movie and The Tree of Life was a less narrative movie, this one is even less so. It’s been great for me to be able to watch Terry evolving in this way.

Bring it on. Even if I retain some qualms about his latest film, that’s not to say it wouldn’t be a thrill to see him push his avant-garde instincts as far as they can go — hopefully with a guarding distributor as permissive as Searchlight. When we’ll see the next stage in the director’s languid evolution is open to question — the prospect of two consecutive years with a new Malick unveiled is hard to imagine, and there’s no prior evidence to suggest he won’t fancy taking another four years over this one.

Meanwhile, with Malick maintain his usual silence, the Lubezki interview offers some of the clearest perspective yet on the production process behind “The Tree of Life.” I particularly liked his observation of the initial discord between Malick’s highly intuitive shooting style and Brad Pitt’s more disciplined regime:

For Brad Pitt, it was the hardest. When he came to the set for the first time, it reminded me of how I’d felt felt on set with Terry for the first time [on The New World]. Sometimes I would be preparing a shot with 50 extras and Terry would say, “Oh look, the wind is blowing in those trees. Let’s run down and bring Pocahontas.” I’d say, “We’ve got 50 extras!” He’d say, “Who cares!”

[On The Tree of Life] Brad was trying to understand why we were not doing coverage in a conventional way. As an actor, he does the first take thinking there is going to be asecond and a third and a fourth, and maybe he can get better or do something different. He realised he had to work in a different way — it took a little while.

As usual with Sight & Sound pieces, it isn’t yet available online (in months to come, this will be the place to look), but it’s well worth seeking out.

[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]


→ 30 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

30 responses so far

  • 1 6-10-2011 at 12:53 pm

    americanrequeim said...

    ive always been a narrative kind of movie goer, but still waiting for this to come somewhere near by and im interested to see what he can do with afflec

  • 2 6-10-2011 at 1:56 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Will anyone be able to say, by the end of the year, that another film deserves the Cinematography Oscar more? I really don’t think so. “The Tree of Life,” dare I say, has even better photography than “Days of Heaven.”

  • 3 6-10-2011 at 2:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Totally profound point on the way: I thought of the Jamiroquai song from Godzilla when I read this headline.

  • 4 6-10-2011 at 4:26 pm

    Bradley said...

    Same Kris. Same.

  • 5 6-10-2011 at 6:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Rest assured, so did I.

  • 6 6-10-2011 at 6:52 pm

    Rashad said...

    “Will anyone be able to say, by the end of the year that another film deserves the Cinematography Oscar more”

    Water For Elephants definitely.

  • 7 6-10-2011 at 7:31 pm

    Maxim said...

    Rashad, was that really as good looking as the trailer made it out to be? I remember seeing it a theater and being intrigued but then the reviews came and gave me a pause. Probably shame on me for giving them any attention.

    As for Malick’s next film – I have no problem with loose naratives (especially when, like in like Sophia Coppola’s work there’s a lot more there then it seems) but the quotes above almost seem like his process is sometimes random. That’s a bit different. I’ll just have to see it.

  • 8 6-10-2011 at 9:39 pm

    André said...

    “Sometimes I would be preparing a shot with 50 extras and Terry would say, “Oh look, the wind is blowing in those trees. Let’s run down and bring Pocahontas.” I’d say, “We’ve got 50 extras!” He’d say, “Who cares!”

    aah, the luxuries of clout… =)

    I can´t believe “Tree of Life” got pushed back – from the release date that would’ve landed on my birthday, no less – two weeks here in Brazil…

  • 9 6-10-2011 at 9:40 pm

    André said...

    meant “I STILL can’t…”

  • 10 6-11-2011 at 12:39 am

    Squasher88 said...

    Wow, even more esoteric? Maybe he abandoned dialogue altogether and that’s why it’s coming out so soon!

  • 11 6-11-2011 at 4:39 am

    Rashad said...

    Maxim, I thought it was great. The circus acts are majestic, the story and acting are both top notch as well. It’s like an old fashioned romance mixed with Emperor of The North.

  • 12 6-11-2011 at 4:58 am

    tony rock said...

    I kinda wish Malick would make a true narrative film for once.

  • 13 6-11-2011 at 11:51 am

    Chris138 said...

    I’ve always considered Badlands to be Malick’s closest to a true narrative film.

  • 14 6-11-2011 at 12:29 pm

    average joe said...

    CAN’T F*****G WAIT!

    It seems like Malick’s been moving further and further away from traditional narrative with each successive film, and I think that each film is better than the last. I just hope it doesn’t take another 2 or 3 years to be released.

  • 15 6-11-2011 at 2:43 pm

    cineJAB said...

    even less narrative driven? Cool, I know not to waste my time on it. It takes a lot for me to not want to see a movie with Bardem, Weisz, or Affleck in it, and I have absolutely no desire to see it if Tree of Life is any indicator of what’s to come.

  • 16 6-11-2011 at 4:14 pm

    Speaking English said...

    What’s wrong with a film not being driven by concrete narrative?

  • 17 6-11-2011 at 5:09 pm

    Rashad said...

    The issue is Malick’s films do have narratives but he just wanders off them. It’s the film equivalent of Dug from Up.

  • 18 6-12-2011 at 11:17 am

    Zac said...


    So in his next movie, there will be a shot of a SQUIRREL? :)

    One of my favorite parts of college was going to the library every month and reading the latest issue of Sight and Sound. I would get a subscription here, but it costs about $100, but they do throw in a free movie if you pay with a direct debit card.

    I’ll have to check and see if my local library had the magazine.

  • 19 6-12-2011 at 12:59 pm

    Ben M. said...

    I thought outside of some of the visuals, Tree of Life was a huge let-down so I almost wished someone reigned Malick in a bit more with this next film. I would say the more narrative Malick films such as Badlands and The New World are my favorite.

  • 20 6-13-2011 at 7:31 am

    mikhael said...

    I really dig these interview pieces about the making of this film. I read one too where the boys are interviewed too, and they’re so honest.

    My friends hate this movie a lot saying it’s a poor narrative film. But I think it’s just his style when it comes to narration.

  • 21 6-13-2011 at 7:17 pm

    GH said...

    its not the plot thats malicks problem its how boring/humorless his world view is. and ive liked every movie hes done. but ill take herzog’s latest hilarious and bizarre freak shows any day, which similarly veer off their plots.people worship TM way too much

  • 22 6-13-2011 at 8:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    His worldview is boring? Are you kidding me? His worldview makes me wish our world was a fraction as stunning as the one captured through his lens.

  • 23 6-14-2011 at 2:02 am

    Rashad said...

    It is. It’s not like he created a beautiful world out of nothing like Pandora. All he’s doing is capturing nature.

  • 24 6-14-2011 at 12:47 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “All he’s doing is capturing nature.” Really? And just anyone can do this, do it with such artistry, passion, and beauty? I’d love to see you try.

  • 25 6-14-2011 at 12:49 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Photography is also an invalid art to you, I imagine. I guess painting would be too.

  • 26 6-14-2011 at 12:54 pm

    Rashad said...

    Watching something like Tree of Life, looked no better than what Planet Earth captured. The point is Niagra Falls would be beautiful to watch regardless if it were in a movie. Just because you put it in, and it maintains that beauty doesn’t mean the director did something special. Nature, i.e. our world, does look like what was in the movie.

  • 27 6-14-2011 at 1:36 pm

    Speaking English said...

    It’s in the compositions, the way he paints with light and color, shape and form. He draws out of nature beauty and elegance we simply don’t see everyday, or fail to notice. The tiny details, the miracles of plants and streams, hills and skies. If you think all he does is “capture nature” (as if that were somehow a meager accomplishment in the first place), then you don’t recognize the ways in which he finds patterns and poetry within it. It’s one thing to take a camera outside and set it down in front of the Grand Canyon. But that’s not what Malick does at all.

    And this is entirely leaving out the spectacular way he films people, too, which only adds to the power of his natural world imagery.

  • 28 6-14-2011 at 2:56 pm

    Rashad said...

    I saw nothing in ToL that I don’t see, or haven’t seen, in every day life. (At least from the normal parts.) The larger nature moments like waterfalls, and the space creation, while nice to look at, are things I’ve seen on nature docs. It’s not derogatory, I just don’t find it special, especially when it’s not connected to a narrative.

  • 29 6-16-2011 at 6:41 am

    David said...

    Rashad: Shots of nature do not have to be connected to narrative per se, but they exist in ToL within the context of the characters and emotions of the film, and it is that context that Malick created. Yes, you can see pretty pictures of trees on a “Planet Earth”-style doc, but how they relate to the emotions of this film is what makes them special here – and turns them into something you wouldn’t otherwise see on the National Geographic Channel.