Virginia Film Festival: Badlands

Posted on November 7, 2011 by

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“I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done/ At least for a little while sir, me and her, we had us some fun” — Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska”

Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands was screened early Saturday evening as part of Turner Classic Movies’ and the Library of Congress’ presentation of films from the National Film Registry Archives.  It was a primarily older audience speckled with students and young adults, all waiting in eager anticipation for the spotlighted screening and panel discussion with actress Sissy Spacek and art director and husband Jack Fisk. TCM’s own Ben Mankiewicz introduced the film and moderated the panel discussion.

Sissy Spacek starred opposite Martin Sheen in the film, which was written, directed, produced, and funded entirely by Terrence Malick.  His story was loosely based on the 1958 killing spree of Charles Starkweather and girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate.  Spacek’s narration throughout the film is lighthearted but powerful in its honesty and simplicity.  Sheen’s portrayal of the disengaged, trigger-happy Kit Carruthers is somehow charming in spite of the character’s motives.  As Mankiewicz pointed out, Malick’s presentation of the characters in the film shows no sign of judgment, leaving the audience free to create their own opinions of the two young runaways.  Malick’s famously profound use of imagery is prevalent in the film, but is much more literal than in more recent works, such as The Tree of Life.

Mankiewicz, Fisk, and Spacek

The discussion following the movie covered a variety of topics, from Fisk’s and Spacek’s experience working with Malick to their personal life (Fisk and Spacek actually met on the set of Badlands).  Both describe their experience with Malick as exhausting but joyous and exceedingly rewarding.  Spacek said, “I knew the scene was going well when I could hear him giggling behind the camera.”  Malick’s approach to directing knows no equivalent, seeing unique opportunities to catch a particular light or mood to transform a simple story into a profound work of art.

Both Fisk and Spacek took a deliberate step back from the film industry to raise their two children.  Now older and with more time to work, Spacek discussed her renewed excitement with film acting, touching on her role in this year’s The Help by stressing that “there are no small parts.”  Fisk continues to work as an art director and production designer and is currently working with Malick on multiple new projects.

Though the film was released nearly forty years ago, the festival screening proved that it still has the power to captivate an audience with its wit, excitement, and charm.  The lively discussion afterwards was informative and entertaining, fostering a renewed sense of appreciation for the 1973 film and creating excitement about future film projects from three of the film industry’s most admired veterans — Fisk, Spacek, and of course, director Terrence Malick.

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