To say that Terrence Malick’s films have grown increasingly divisive would be an understatement; his dizzying (literally, there’s so much spinning), dreamlike aesthetic is something that is seemingly only loved or hated, rarely — if ever — eliciting a tepid reaction in between. (I’ve never seen someone walk out of a Malick film, shrug and say, “Eh, it was just okay.”) According to a very suggestive Facebook post, Paul Schrader, the Golden Globe-nominated screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, has come out firmly in the hate camp — at least as far as Malick’s latest is concerned.
When an actor works with Terrence Malick it means throwing out everything they’ve ever learned in drama school or on a film set. Whatever script they might have initially read goes out the window, and Malick asks his performers to just, be. Maybe he’ll hand an actor a scrap of paper with am aphorism written across it. Maybe he’ll give them some minor stage direction, then let the camera follow from there. Michael Fassbender recently described Malick’s style as giving his cast “flavors as opposed to direct commands or instructions.” Some actors love it; others notoriously hate it.
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: The new Terrence Malick film opens with a Die Antwoord song. The past several years have been the most productive of the reclusive filmmaker’s career as he’s been churning out more movies now than in the first three decades of his time as a director, but they’ve also been his most surprising.
Terrence Malick likes being caught on camera about as much as he likes plots in his movies; in other words, not at all. So it was pretty extraordinary a few years ago when he was filmed working with Christian Bale at the Austin City Limits film festival.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a great time to be a Terrence Malick fan. After making only six films between 1973 and 2012, the reclusive filmmaker released two films last year (one of which has three different versions) and has two more on the way this year. The first up is his much anticipated rock and roll-infused drama Song to Song, starring Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman.
Austin, Texas native Terrence Malick shot his latest movie in and around the Austin music scene. And earlier this week, news broke that the film, freshly retitled Song to Song, was ready for release and coming to theaters in March. So we probably should have seen this announcement (via The New York Times) coming: Song to Song will open the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival. So you know what this means: A glitzy opening night red carpet, complete with Terrence Malick posing for lots and lots of photos and interviews. Or the exact and total opposite of that.
A brief personal anecdote: I had the good fortune of attending the Austin City Limits music festival in 2012, where I caught an outdoor set by Atlanta indie rock outfit the Black Lips. During the performance, I spotted an unfamiliar figure gripping a guitar onstage, a young woman who looked suspiciously similar to Rooney Mara. I’d find out the next day that she, Ryan Gosling, and Terrence Malick had come to town to slyly shoot some footage for an untitled project about the Austin local music scene. It was neat at the time, but over the past five years, I had forgotten all about it.