🎬 #24 Spoiler: Malick's Virgin Land.
The grandeur and mystical quality that Terence Malick brings to his films in ways couldn’t be further from Sean Baker’s very modern, beautifully naturalistic, verging on documentary style. But in the two films this week you see older men pursue much younger women. The theme of corruption, ideas of what it means taking someone from their home, and the inevitability of men to tend towards violence and destroy something pure are things both these films have in common.
But they come at it in very different ways. Weirdly, two vividly different filmmakers feel strangely akin when you see these two films together. But you don’t have to watch both, like always - the choice is yours!
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: THE NEW WORLD
2005 Dir Terence Malick
Possibly Malick's last film film, and by that I mean most traditional narrative film. Here he balances his tendency to drift into abstract, beautiful, visual poetry, perfectly with the plot of John Smith, an explorer, meeting Pocahontas as they arrive in her land. The story marries well with his fascination of the natural world and the beauty it exudes. Indeed they shot over a million feet of film during production - seemingly trying to capture as much of this new world as possible.
Malick’s handling of the ‘love’ story is tender, and this delicate-ness is highlighted further against the brutal backdrop of the conditions the settlers find themselves in eventually. The juxtaposition of the settler’s struggle versus the harmony with which the Native American’s thrive without ruining the land is stark. There is a sense that imposing your old world values on a new land is what leads to ruin and the destruction of something truly beautiful. Something reflected in the film’s end.
To survive you have to live in harmony. Neither side imposing their ideas on their other - or if there is some exchange, the most successful way is through the mutually beneficial aspects of both cultures. Emmanuel Lubeski’s photography is gorgeous as always - the wandering eye of the camera taking in Jack Fisk’s authentically crafted encampments, filled with details that render the entire world vividly realistic. The sun drenched beauty of the native’s land and way of life clashing with the dark muddied settlements of the invaders. Many foreign boots churning up new green land, turning it to the colour of dirt and death.
The casting of the Pocahontas character saw the casting team and Malick see thousands of actors. They eventually settled on 14 year old new comer Q'orianka Kilcher. The first time actor’s fascination with the filmmaking process, and her raw, innocent interaction with Colin Farrell’s John Smith and Christian Bale’s Rolfe makes her performance feel all the more real. She’s discovering a new world, literally. It’s her open innocent heart that propels the film and on a practical level saves the settlers from death.
Her wide-eyed, deer-like expressions fill us with wonder, as she navigates this new world of love and the men who pursue her. Indeed it’s the men’s inability to recognise and leave things as they are that leads to the climax. Their values need to be stamped on the land, and all those within it, even if it’s motivated by something like love.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 15 mins of my precious life watching this? Wander into a new beautiful world of the Pocahontas tale, with the wide angled splendour of Malick and Lubeski’s trademark giving us a feeling few filmmakers can match, with delicate performances from the trio at the centre.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon.
Fact: Malick was a big admirer of the Disney film which led to the casting of Bale and Irene Bedard, who both had roles in the animated version.
FILM TWO: RED ROCKET
2021 Dir Sean Baker
Sean Baker’s energetic and often wild 16mm anamorphic tale of a washed-up pornstar returning to this home town is a vivid portrayal of America that we rarely see. This is the new world after it’s been hammered by industry, in fact most of the film takes place in the shadow of huge oil refineries. The imprint of industry on the beautiful, natural landscape of Texas. It’s in these shadows, in a donut shop, that the love story central to the film is discovered. Strawberry, a young girl, 17 is found by Rex’s Mikey Sabre, a one-time successful porn star.
What may seem like love is eventually revealed to be something else. As we’re taken on a ride by Sabre through his estranged marriage, with a raw charm and energy that is hard to ignore. Even if he is a despicable person. This rawness and reality is aided by the method of production, a tight knit crew, half-broken down homes and first time actors shot on 16mm. There is a textural world at play in the production design and in Drew Daniel’s cinematography that feels used and at the same time, unspoiled.
Strawberry’s semi-innocent youth stands out in the worn town as something fresh and filled with life. There is a freedom to her that Mikey can’t help but grub up. The very thing that draws him to her is something that he could eventually ‘destroy.’
Baker’s filmography is a study in the marginalised characters in and around the sex industry. And here he directs Rex to embody a character that feels so authentic that he could be walking around right now, trying to discover his next play. His next hustle. The wide frames and the more objective camera presents these characters but makes no judgement of them - it’s left up the audience.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 10 mins of my precious life watching this? Sean Baker and his crew takes us into the depths of Texas as we encounter characters we rarely see in this backyard odyssey of destruction as a porn star tries to get back on top.
*Available for a small rental fee on Apple TV, Curzon, YouTube, Amazon and Sky Store.
Fact: The actor who plays Lonnie, Mikey’s next door neighbour, was the chef at the restaurant they were scouting for a few interview scenes and Baker liked his look so offered him the role. Bonus: the entire crew consisted of 10 people with many doubling up responsibilities.