Of trees and slackers
Published: June 15, 2011
With the imminent release of Terrence Malick’s much anticipated The Tree of Life, now is a good time to revisit one of his earlier films, The Thin Red Line. His work has always been considered poetic and visually stunning, not to mention critically acclaimed, but the films rarely appeal to mass audiences, even though Malick works with marquee stars such as Martin Sheen, Richard Gere, and, for his latest film, Brad Pitt. Why is that? Malick works abstractly, favoring cinematic atmosphere over action, and voice-over instead of explanatory dialogue — not a surefire recipe for mainstream success. The Thin Red Line, a loose adaptation of James Jones’ novel about the WWII Battle of Guadalcanal, is famous for being Malick’s return to filmmaking after hiding out like a hermit for about 20 years in Austin and parts unknown. And just as his personal story is mythical and hazy, so too are his films. Malick often presents tragic stories from a child-like perspective, filled with curiosity and wonderment. The Thin Red Line might not be the most “realistic” war film, but it establishes a higher sense of truth.
When speaking of abstract films by Austin filmmakers, Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker comes to mind. Though made for little money, Slacker became an iconic film known for its unique approach — there are no main characters in the film. We follow one set of characters for about three or four minutes; then, as that scene ends, we follow other characters as they happen to walk on by. The film flows and meanders, filled with interesting rants and harangues. Whereas Malick always retained his personal style of filmmaking, Linklater has proven to be more versatile, occasionally making story-driven films for a larger audience. Interestingly, Slacker is in the news again. To commemorate its 20th anniversary, various filmmakers are remaking the film scene-by-scene. Cine File recently talked with Slacker’s cinematographer Lee Daniel to gain some little-known information on the making of the original. His favorite scene was actually the one that was filmed in San Antonio’s King William District. Unfortunately, that scene ended up on the cutting room floor. So close, yet so far
Cine File is a random reference guide to help explore the vast catalog of films available on Netflix instant viewing, with special emphasis on the interesting, the unusual, and the ones that got left behind.