In “Days of Heaven,” (again) Bill (Richard Gere) leaves Chicago and gets farm work for himself, his sister Linda and his girlfriend Abby. Bill and Abby pretend as brother and sister.
So the question is are they hicks or not?
They do straddle the line. For the characters’ sake we’ll pretend that they did so because it’s better to get work under this guise. That doesn’t stop them from looking like kissing cousins in front of the farm. Of course, everyone notices, including the farmer (Sam Shepard) who eventually marries Abby.
I have always considered them as tragic figures, because OK, I have to explain this further by saying that this post exists because of a discussion I had with a friend after finally seeing the movie on the big screen. One of the things he also said was that the main characters weren’t that intelligent. The fact that not only did they get beyond Chicago city limits but that they maneuvered themselves into the farmer’s mansion disproves that. The tragic figure reading comes in when they get into something so big that they can’t get out of it, a general plot that will keep most eyes’ attention.
They’re also not that articulate, as shown in Linda’s narration, having the vernacular of Chicago streets. This is the exact opposite of “The Thin Red Line,” where guys in Southern accents have poetic narration. I never really expect intelligence from my characters, nor do I expect them to evolve. As long as the characters aren’t Coen Brothers stupid or Jimmy Stewart awkward. I’m saying that even if I like both the Coens and Stewart.
I’m comforted that they’re not really brother and sister. Bill and Abby’s relationship is also weaved into a narrative and fictional environment that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable when I’m looking at them. Thankfully.
I am inclined to compare the cinematography of “Dersu Uzala” to a Hiroshige, but the film’s visuals come into their own, original being. Hiroshige would show us blossoms bordering the view, while other artwork and films about forests would show the vertical properties of the trees, blocking the sunlight. There are not a lot of animals shown in this film’s version of Siberia, but the two or three that show up do end up being like characters instead of just props.
Kurosawa is hailed as a master in black and white cinematography, but I am probably one of the daft ones who think that colour is his best friend. I like the films he made in the 70’s and 80’s compared to the dusty look his classic material. In this film, the trees crowd in and cozy up on the Russian surveyors and their eponymous Mongolian guide, although there is enough sunlight to make the footmen feel safe, for a while.
That’s the reason why I like this film – I don’t mind the good samurai versus bad samurai, but I love that nature can turn from pretty backdrop to harsh villain. The exact opposite of the crowded forests is the barren lakeside during winter, the object of Arseniev’s expedition. Getting lost from their colleagues, Dersu warns Arseniev to work fast and cut the grass before the sun disappears. The sunset looks just as menacing as the one that takes over the frame in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Arseniev faints a few times from exhaustion and cold and Dersu is there to save his life.
“Dersu Uzala” is not just a study of nature. The titular character is a great addition to great characters of colour in film, being more stern than your average Uncle Tom. It is also a study in friendship, and how friendships are more about the circumstances that begin them instead of the two parties involved. Just like friendships it is how some people are only fit for certain environments and certain times, and how the hostile forests and the urban order can do to those people.
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
That is Howard Beale’s (Peter Finch) jeremiad proclamation, echoed by a handful of New Yorkers decorating its apartment walls. Seeing this on the big screen will incite wonder and dread, the first of many proclamation within this movie.
One of the components of a movie or it to be considered a favourite is the crazy. I mentioned this in my post about “Twelve Monkeys,” but you’ll hear different pitches of it in “Network.” The movie is one dialogue explosion surpassing the previous scene, culminating with a last and fucked up solution.
Sidney Lumet, one of my favourite directors, is the hand that rocks this film. His theatre background is well demonstrated here, again handling Paddy Chayefsky’s eloquent script like it’s Shakespeare. Howard Beale asks his audience to be involved the same way Lumet provokes his audience to new crazy heights. The characters referring to the fourth wall reminds us that a self-aware fictional lie is better than the comforting one.
Everyone else who has seen this movie will talk about its parallels today. We’re at the ‘Golden Age of Television’ now, but that doesn’t stop “processed instant God,” as Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) says, to seep through and turn every viewer into a madman. Imagine a Glenn Beck who cannot understand Ayn Rand.
I want you get up now, turn off your computers, get up on your chairs, and go to the Bloor tomorrow night at 9. Plan this. Take at least one other person with you. See the movie and find out whether “Rocky” should have won. You have to see this movie before you die.
(Bill looks up. ph. http://ofilia.wordpress.com/)
“Days of Heaven” was on TCM as part of their 31 Days of Oscar thing they do every February. I was planning to see Tootsie instead, but this was on, and earlier.
Every time I saw a great long shot of a landscape, I felt disappointed in myself that I’m not waiting until later this month to go see it on a big screen. On screen this stuff probably looks majestic, but on TV it looked to clean. Well at least I didn’t watch this on my iPod. I do appreciate what Malick does here. It felt like he waited (apparently the film was show in the course of a year) for the right colours to appear on the sky. It was like what Van Gogh would have done if he had a camera. Seasons had to change so that we’re not seeing yellow fields all the time, and Malick did that beautifully as well. And the locust scene can wake the hell out of anyone.
There is that little part of my that thinks that this movie is an earlier, lighter text compared to “The Thin Red Line.””Days of Heaven” portrays man and nature as coexisting, weaving into one another. The fields and the sky aren’t a backdrop for the love triangle between Bill (Richard Gere), The Farmer (Sam Shepard) and Abby (Brooke Adams), and it makes the movie a bit poetic. In “Days of Heaven,” nature controls man, while “Thin Red Line” is more of a microscopic look of how man can destroy nature. It’s probably a bias, and that bias is getting weaker than it was two days ago when I first saw this, but it’s there.
A really strong point of this movie is that it shows a time when people could transform and disappear. There’s so much regionalism now, and I feel like the class system is getting stronger these days. Back then everyone seemed able to do anything and take any job. Seeing Richard Gere’s character turn from farm hand to a king to a fugitive is still refreshing today, and his character gives a face to the undocumented persons that helped shape American history.