Thursday, August 26, 2004

the thin red line (2)

for those taken aback by my somewhat idiosyncratic love of malick's film, fear not. 'the thin red line' succeeds on a conventional level, no doubt. if you've no time for its reflective episodes (e.g. the kinda guy/gal who'll say 'oh christ the pacific islanders are dancing again, here we go', 'zzzz the two lovers are doing their weird flashback sexual dance thing again') the film is pure adrenalin-filled entertainment in patches. the prolonged charge up the guadalcanal hill easily rivals spielberg's over-lauded 'saving private ryan' opening for sheer drama & surprise value. the subsequent small-party attack on a machine gun emplacement is a wonderfully intense little sequence, filmed almost purely from the perspective of a hypothetical US soldier, crouching behind rock for cover, glancing occasionally out at the emplacement, peering up at the sky warily for the incoming artillery barrage. again, it's worth remembering that the 'camera shot from behind the barrel of a gun' was mastered by kubrick in, oddly enough, 'dr.strangelove'. at least i'm pretty sure it was one of the first instances a director said 'ok bugger it, let's film this from the actual perspective of a regular soldier on the ground, tentative & hesitant behind his weapon'. that said, malick doesn't waver from his 'face aesthetic' in these sequences, every now & again giving us an anguished close-up (e.g. cavaziel's strange look of bewilderment as he contemplates his wounded comrade near the gun emplacement).

but it's the reflective in-between episodes i really want people to savour. this is a film that makes flashbacks/fantasies work. we get a good taste early on. with dulcet american-boy voiceover going, we see images of pastoral innocence before the war - the soldier as child, gloriously happy in the wheatfields it seems. there's a bit of winslow homer about this short-lived image - 'the veteran in a new field' comes to mind, the clear but breezy blue sky. just as there's a teeny bit of edward hopper domestic lighting in the later flashbacks, involving the australian actress miranda otto & the actor guy who's name i can't recall. these, for me, count among the most beautiful visions of my film-viewing life. a beautiful utilisation of natural, palish-orangey light, filtered thru the omnipresent set of dull curtains constantly ebbing & flowing in an open window's wind. the suggestion is of breeze, domestic bedroom light at noon, & a summery, erotic heat. the two lovers, fully-clothed, we get the feeling they've been indulging forever in this semi-prudish feeling-out of one another, this preparatory eroticism. it's not quite foreplay, though, is it - sex is never explicitly suggested. these are two people just loving one another's physical company. a teenage conceit. is not so much teenage lust driven by the incredible erotic shock of first-time touch? we see each lover peering fixedly at their own hands, not at one another, as their fingers wrestle. we see her (& make no mistake, otto pulls off these scenes, or at least the faces required during these scenes, with serious aplomb) face overcome momentarily with shock as he takes the balletic grinding at once too far & not far enough. this is wonderful, wonderful cinema.

these fantasies/flashbacks, of which there are more later in the film (the 'love, where did it come from? who lit this flame in us?' episode is probably the best minute of the picture) - they fill me with confidence as to the artful possibilities of combining moving image-voiceover-score. kubrick made the first step, juxtapositioning the most unlikely sound with image. malick has incorporated words, or, moreover, a humble poetry, & succeeded brilliantly for a few minutes. now of course many directors might've done this before - please, if they have, i'd love to know when & whom. no doubt i'm exasperatingly naive about such aesthetic antecedents, & also probably overly enthused about malick's 'innovation' here. but i remain convinced that this is superlative film-making.


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