Watching Terence Malick's Days of Heaven again, for the first time in a while, I was reminded of this exerpt from an interview with film composer James Horner, regarding Horner's work on Malick's The New World:
I would sum up Terry as a brilliant photographer - and that's where it stops. The images in The New World are stunning, in Thin Red Line are stunning. In Thin Red Line he was surrounded by a couple of three or four people, a wonderful editor, a wonderful sound effects person who guided him through the dubbing and a couple of other people. And on The New World they were not employed. And Terry shot The New World and the whole idea of The New World was going to be a love story between John Smith and Pocahontas. And there is no reason in the world why it could not have been as great love story as Titanic was.*
I know! If only, right? Why can't Terence Malick, a filmmaker whose head is full of poetry and images and who is willing to follow his story where it leads him, instead of dragging it, spitting and kicking, after him be more like James Cameron, whose head is full of technology, and who would probably fire half his crew if anything ever happened on one of his sets by accident. With Days of Heaven, Malick takes his story, which is at root a potboiler, and makes it Biblical. With Titanic, Cameron took tragic history and turned it into television.
Okay, I thoroughly dislike Titanic. I understand that many people like it, and I'd rather not fall into the trap set up by Horner, intentionally or not, of comparing and judging one filmmaker against another, especially as the two have almost nothing to do with each other. But isn't it interesting that Horner seems to think that The New World would have been better had it been more like a film that had already been made (a film for which Horner's score won an Oscar, not incidentally)? What a blinkered view of film he must have, and how interesting that the opinion comes not from a studio suit, but from someone on the creative side of filmmaking. This also reminds me of something Owen Gleiberman said in his review of Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, which was, roughly, that he expected Anderson to be able to make a really wonderful film some day, if he could just stop being Wes Anderson. In other words, if only he'd subsume himself into the machine. Let your instincts and point of view fall away. Don't make the films you want to make -- make the films I want to see. And that's a film critic talking, folks, but it's the same thing with Horner and Malick. Gleiberman wants Anderson to lose his individuality, and Horner wants to write the score for a movie that's just like that other movie he wrote that other score for. You know the one. It's where Leonardo DiCaprio teaches Kate Winslet how to spit, and then he falls off a boat.
Perhaps I'm making far too much of these couple of quotes, but Days of Heaven is such an original, beautiful and haunting movie that Horner's belief that Malick would be a better filmmaker if he'd just model himself on the guy who wrote a scene in one of his movies where a big robot asks a teenager what crying is, really and truly fries my ass. He said it three years ago, and I'm still chapped about it. That's what seeing Days of Heaven again for the first time in about ten years will do to you. It instantly makes you the enemy of anyone who has ever said a word against Terence Malick.
So watch it, you!
*This is from an audio interview, all the links to which seem to be dead now, though if you do a search for "James Horner interview Malick", you'll find plenty of references to it. In any case, I came across the transcipt portion quoted above some time ago here.