It was an act of love. Those men on the line were my family, my home. They were closer to me than I can say, closer than my friends had been or ever would be. With “shattering prose,” the New York Times–bestselling author of From Here to Eternity captures the intense combat in the battle of Guadalcanal (San Francisco . Terrence Malick's cinematic version of James Jones's The Thin Red Line was Thin Red Line presents an unrelentingly bleak vision of the world, and when all.
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The Thin Red Line. Context/Production. Great changes in M's absence and success of Jaws (!) and Star Wars (): blockbusters, sequels, high concept. THIITRED LINE The Thin Red Line is neither the distortion of Jones's novel nor the historical aberration that some have claimed it to be. In fact, Malick's film not. 'Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line and Homeric Epic. Spectacle, Simile, Scene and Situation.' In *War as Spectacle: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the.
What kind of remote head were you using on the Akela? We attached a Libra 3 head, which worked out great for us. We were moving the crane arm really fast and coming to abrupt stops, and the Libra really helped to take any wobble out of the arm.
Part of the initial motivation for bringing in the Libra 3 was that I wanted to have a really stable camera for the shipboard scenes in the landing sequence. We put the Libracam and head on a crab dolly with a hydraulic arm that we could raise and lower.
When we set that rig up on the deck of the smaller landing craft, it stabilized the horizon gyroscopically; we got these fantastic shots where the troops and the craft itself are in the foreground, and you really get a sense of the movement because the horizon is absolutely stable.
You really get a sense of the sea motion. Later on in the picture, we put the Libra head in the back of a truck that was transporting some of the characters through the airfield. How did you get such an unusual perspective? Once we put the actress on the swing, I wanted to get the camera at her eye level, so we just put the camera on top of a ladder behind her. We initially tried the shot with the camera right-side up, but when we flipped the camera over and did it again it looked great.
In addition to the Australian hills, you also had to deal with a jungle. How did that affect your lighting strategy? In those situations, scouting is everything.
It was beautiful in there, but we were dealing with extremely low light levels. There were subtleties in the colors and gradations of the natural light that completely disappeared when we mixed in any artificial fill. There was plenty of contrast, though, because the sunlight that did filter in created great hot highlights.
I decided to just expose into the shadows as much as possible and go for the natural falloff of the shadows to compensate for lack of detail. It worked out okay. This became a general approach to lighting most of the exteriors. I started out using some amounts of fill, but I became less and less interested in controlling contrast; I would expose for the shadow detail that I wanted and then usually let highlights go.
At times, we would use indirect light bounced from muslin or beadboard to lift faces, and maybe use black for negative, but when we were working in heavy contrast, I was quite a bit overexposed from what a more normal exposure would be in those situations.
When it was sunny, it was extremely contrasty, but rather than trying to balance everything by adding fill, I just ignored the highlights.
I thought the film actually started looking much better when we lost the details in the highlights; it seemed more appropriate for the story. The more contrasty things got, the better, because it felt as if things were out of control—just as they were in the story.
Can you give me an example of how the lighting conditions affected your work with the actors? In the scene, which occurs about halfway through the battle, Nolte tells Cusack not to worry about the men and to focus on the charge up the hill. We were on top of a hill in an area with all of these burned-out tree trunks. We chose to shoot in a direction that would allow us to take advantage of the light. We put them in areas where they were in direct sunlight that was broken up by the trees, and we also added smoke to soften the sunlight.
We wanted to show the environment, but we also chose angles that were good for close-ups and dialogue. We used some white fill and black negative to give the characters some shape and contrast, but choosing the right angles was the most important consideration. Were you able to do that kind of work on The Thin Red Line?
We had a page script, and after we shot all of that we went to Guadalcanal for 20 more days of unscripted improvisations. We shot relentlessly every day, in every conceivable lighting condition, from seven in the morning until it got dark at about six p. Yes, there are magic-hour shots in the film, but only because we had to shoot until it got dark! You must make choices that will allow you to take advantage of natural light in existing conditions.
The predominant day exterior lighting conditions on this film were either sunny high-contrast or soft contrast resulting from overcast conditions. It was impossible to entirely control all of the light in our shots because we were using wider-angle anamorphic lenses and constantly moving the camera. None of the traditional methods of light control, such as putting up silks, were possible, because of the terrain and the nature of the shots.
At other times, we would stay in the open and go with the existing high contrast, exposing the faces and letting the contrast go. There were also days when we had both overcast and high-contrast sun happening simultaneously because of low clouds moving quickly and causing severe light changes. We had some days when the light changes happened so quickly that we just shot through them.
It could be blistering hot one moment, and completely dark the next—sometimes in the same shot. But that represented the reality of the situation, and we just went with it. In fact, for one Akela shot of the soldiers climbing up the hills, we waited specifically for a light change to happen.
The scene starts out in heavy cloud cover, but the sun comes out and reveals these guys sneaking through the grass. That particular light change worked well for us. What kind of look did you go for in scenes that had to be lit? There are some scenes at the beginning of the film that take place within a troop transport ship. We wanted to play those scenes really dark, and we used a lot of Steadicam.
The ship interior set was actually built on a covered tennis court in Australia.
Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’: The Traumatic and Poetic Journey into the Heart of Man
We basically lit the ship interior with practical fixtures that were outfitted with really hot incandescent globes. It was mostly hot toplight that created little pools of light. Once again, we tried to create as much contrast as possible; the light was about three to four stops overexposed, and the shadow areas were very dark.
I used more light in those scenes than I would have if it was a spherical picture; I was shooting at about T4. We were trying to really capture the claustrophobic feeling that exists within that type of ship. There were also a few tent interiors in the picture with a nice look. We just got well back and bounced an enormous amount of light [into the tent] from a distance.
Throughout the picture, we were attempting to re-create the look of the natural-light situations that we were encountering. Which film stocks did you use? For the lower-light situations and interiors, I used the Vision [T] I would basically switch to the faster stock when we started to get a light reading below 2. I used the faster stock to maintain my depth of field. I find that the sharpness of the Vision stock worked well for this picture, because we were after a sense of hard reality.
I still feel that the Vision stocks are slightly too contrasty, though. I prefer the older T-grain stocks like , which is a really great stock. I feel much more comfortable working at around 4. Shooting wider than 2. Did you use any filtration on this picture? No, we shot everything clean. Have you applied any special lab processes? I did a lot of testing at Technicolor before we left to go on location, and I was initially planning to do ENR prints because I really wanted to get the richest blacks possible.
At the last minute before we answer-printed, though, I tested the new Kodak Vision print stock and it looked great. The blacks were very good, and I felt that the color rendition of the Vision stock was more appropriate for this picture than ENR. The ENR process is a great look, but it does desaturate some colors to a certain extent. I wanted to maintain the richness and variety of all the natural color we photographed in our tropical environments, and therefore switched to the Vision stock.
Kodak was great, and we were able to get enough Vision print stock for the entire release. He did a great job timing this movie on a very tight schedule. He was able to match the light in some sequences, which I was slightly nervous about. Was that by design? The combat was certainly important to the story, which is about men experiencing warfare for the first time.
This is a different kind of movie. Were you keeping tabs on Private Ryan while you were in production? We were shooting at the same time. My wife, Lois Burwell, was the chief makeup artist on Private Ryan. She was in Ireland and England while I was in Australia, and we would talk by phone or send e-mails back and forth. She was very excited about the work they were doing. She was designing amazing prosthetic devices and making elaborate blood rigs.
You must be so happy. Now, after seeing Private Ryan , I must say that I think Steven Spielberg, Janusz Kaminski [ASC], and the crew of that picture created a whole new level of expertise with that type of action and effects work. They did the best job ever of creating that kind of combat experience on film. Ryan is a fantastic film. Did you use multiple cameras for any of the battle footage? There was only one day when we had a combined first and second unit and we shot with four cameras.
The majority of the time, the first and second units shot with two cameras. I was almost reluctant to do this movie because of Braveheart ; I thought that the last thing I should be doing at this point in my career was another day exterior battlefield movie [laughs], but I was drawn to the material and the idea of working with Terry.
How extensive were the practical effects in those sequences? We had several mortar and artillery barrages that were fairly big, as well as nighttime pyro effects for a bombing raid on the airfield. We did some tests with the effects guys to determine how hot their explosions were going to be, and then exposed at around T4.
What kind of footage were you after when you went back to Guadalcanal? The story of the Melanesian people who lived there during the war is really interesting. They had existed for centuries in this very peaceful and tropical place when they were suddenly invaded by all of this large-scale violence.
When we went back to the island, we wanted to find some native people to put in the picture. Terry wanted to introduce this idea early on, and he wanted to present these people in their traditional lifestyle, as it had existed back in the s. We did a lot of research, and we discovered that this culture no longer existed in the areas of Guadalcanal that were logistically accessible to us.
We therefore put together a special third unit to find a village and shoot anthropological footage. The unit was headed up by Reuben Aaronson, who had done a lot of National Geographic shoots.
He and his team went to this traditional village on the south side of the island, and stayed there for a couple of weeks.
How did the Melanesians react to having a camera crew in their midst? Reuben had an anthropologist with him, Christine Jourdan, who has made a career out of studying the people of the Solomon Islands. She really knew the people, and how to blend in with them. Reuben had never shot 35mm, and he suddenly found himself working with a Panaflex and anamorphic lenses. He did a great job, though. When the first unit went in later, we re-created a portion of the village in an area that was accessible to us, and got some of the locals to come in and interact with our actors.
They spent a few days getting to know each other, and then we improvised a few sequences. The people were very natural, because all they had to do was be themselves.
We used a very reduced unit to make them feel more comfortable. What else did you shoot on Guadalcanal? We were able to get some shots that established the geographic continuity between Savo Island, the beach, the palm trees and the hills.
Savo Island was the site of several horrendous naval battles, and the huge coconut groves on Guadalcanal really had the signature look of the South Pacific. By shooting on Guadalcanal itself, we were able to establish that connection.
How did that experience affect you personally?
Going to Guadalcanal was the best thing we could have done to get a sense of the real circumstances of the war. In fact, there are still a lot of artifacts from the war lying around. The locals showed us pieces from their collections, which included weapons, uniforms, helmets, and so on. We were constantly finding remnants of the battle at some of our locations.
One of the assistant directors even tripped over a spent artillery shell that was buried in the ground. Being there also helped to give us a better appreciation for what everyone there must have gone through. We visited the sites of many of the battles described in the book, and they were pretty amazing. You just cannot imagine how horrible it must have been. The idea of these men living out there for months at a time in such dangerous and brutal combat situations seems just incredible to me.
I think we all came away with a real sense of the sacrifice that was made by everyone who participated in the war.
Hopefully, our film works as an illustration of that. I believe that what Terry wanted the film to be about, most of all, was that the real enemy in war is the war itself. War, and not necessarily one side or the other, is the great evil. Mark is a brilliant, brilliant artist. As a result of all the recent interest in this collection I dug into the archives and posted more boards from the film. He would start shooting the scene, but watch the sky. He was finishing the scenes in golden light.
We were up in far north Queensland in the rain forest area of Australia and then for about a month in Guadalcanal. John, John [Toll] get the camera! Get the camera! There he is! Are you kidding? Reilly on The Thin Red Line. Terrence Malick wanted me to write the music first. Usually you compose to a rough cut. I threw all my previous knowledge out the window and started again. I needed to provide a structure for him to build the film on.
The one thing Terry gave me was the ability to be a better composer. I wrote for nine months without a day off. It was incredible pressure in the cutting room. Rosy-Fingered Dawn is a film on Terrence Malick. To non-Americansand perhaps to many contemporary Americans as wellthe signicance of Guadalcanal might not be familiar.
The Thin Red Line
It was the key battle in the war against Japan, in a campaign that led from the attack on Pearl Harbor in to American victory and post-war imperial hegemony. If we cast the Japanese in the role of the Trojans, and Guadalcanal in the place of Troy, then The Thin Red Line might be said to recount the pre-history of American empire in the same way as Homer recites the pre-history of Hellenic supremacy.
It might be viewed as a founding myth, and like all such myths, from Homer to Virgil to Milton, it shows both the necessity for an enemy in the act of founding and the often uncanny intimacy with that enemy. Some of the most haunting images of the lm are those in which members of Charlie company sit face-to-face with captured Japanese soldiers surrounded by corpses, mud, and the dehumanizing detritus of battle. Jones was following 5 the formula he established in his rst book, the nine hundred-page, raw blockbuster From Here to Eternity Jones a , which deals with events 7 surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
This is a low- 5 budget, technically clumsy, averagely acted, and indeed slightly saucy 6 movie, where the jungles of the South Pacic have been replanted in Spain, where the picture was shot. But it is a good honest picture, and 8 there are many analogues with Malicks version, particularly the dialogues 9 between Colonel Tall and Captain Stein.
The guiding theme is the insanity of war, the thin red line 4 between the sane and the mad, and we are offered a series of more or 5 less trite reections on the meaninglessness of war. Yet, in this respect, 6 the lm is much more faithful to James Joness novel than 7 Malicks treatment, with its more metaphysical intimations. In the 8 movie, the existential hero nds himself through the act of killing. Doll eventually crosses the thin 1 red line and goes crazy, killing everyone in sight, including his own 2 comrades.
The books great 6 virtue is its evocation of camaraderie, the physical and emotional intensity 7 of the relations between the men in C-for-Charlie company. Yet, in this regard, the novel serves Malicks purposes extremely well because it provides him with the raw narrative prime matter from which to form his screenplay. For example, the central protagonist of Malicks version, Witt, brilliantly played by Jim Caviezel, is a more marginal gure in Joness novel.
He drifts repeatedly in and out of the action, having been transferred from Charlie company to Cannon company, which is a collection of brigands and reprobates, but he is eventually readmitted to Charlie company because of his exceptional valor in battle.
He is depicted as a stubborn, single-minded, half-educated troublemaker from Breathitt County, Kentucky, motivated by racism, a powerful devotion to his comrades, and an obscure ideal of honor.
Although there is an essential solitude to Witts character that must have appealed to Malick, the latter transforms him into a much more angelic, self-questioning, philosophical gure.
Indeed, the culminating action of Malicks lm is Witts death, which does not even occur in the novel, where he is shown at the end of the book nally reconciled with Fife, his former buddy.
Fife is the central driving character of Joness novel, together with Doll, Bell, and Welsh. I have been informed that Malick shot about seven hours of lm, but had to cut it to three hours to meet his contract.
Therefore, the whole story of Fifeand doubtless much elsewas cut out. And, interestingly, there are themes in the novel that Malick does not take up, such as the homosexual relations between comrades, in particular Dolls emerging acknowledgment of his homosexuality.
It would appear that Malick has a very free relation to his material. But appearances can be deceptive. For Jones, there was a clear thematic and historical continuity between From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line and Malick respects that continuity by integrating passages and characters from the former book into his screenplay.
For example, the character of Colonel Tall is lifted from the earlier novel and, more importantly, Prewitt in From Here To Eternity becomes fused with Witt, becoming literally pre- Witt.
As Jimmie E. Cain has shown in an invaluable article, Prewitts speculations about his mothers death and the question of immortality are spoken by Witt in the important opening scenes of The Thin Red Line.
After Malick repeatedly consulted Gloria Jones, the late novelists wife, about the slightest changes from novel to screenplay, she apparently CALM 15 remarked, Terry, you have my husbands voice, youre writing in his 2 musical key; now what you must do is improvise. Play riffs on this cited 3 in Cain While there are many memorable passages of dialogue, and some extraordinarily photographed extended action 7 sequences, the core of the lm is carried by Malicks favourite cinematic technique: the voiceover.
This is worth considering in some detail, for, 9 as Michael Filippidis has argued, the voiceover provides the entry 10 point for all three of Malicks films. The technique of the voiceover allows the character to 3 assume a distance from the cinematic action and a complicity with the 4 audience, an intimate distance that is meditative, ruminative, at times 5 speculative. It is like watching a movie with someone whispering into 6 your ear. Badlands 9 and Days of Heaven are narrated from a female perspective and it is through 20 the eyes of two young, poorly educated women that we are invited to 1 view the world.
In The Thin Red Line, the voiceovers are male and plural. Come out where I am; 4 the young Melanesian mother that Witt meets at the beginning of the 5 lm; and the recollected scene of Witts mothers deathbed.
Although it 6 is usually possible to identify the speaker of the voiceover, their voices 7 sometimes seem to blend into one another, particularly during the 8 closing scenes of the lm when the soldiers are leaving Guadalcanal on 9 board a landing craft.
As the camera roams from face to face, almost drunkenly, the voices become one voice, one soul, as if all men got one 1 big soulbut we will come back to this.
The powerful effect of the 3 voiceovers cannot be distinguished from that of the music which accom- 4 panies them.
The score, which bears sustained listening on its own 5 account, was composed by Hans Zimmer, who collaborated extensively 6 with Malick. The latters use of music in his movies is at times breath- 7 taking, and the structure of his lms bears a close relation to musical com- position, where leitmotifs function as both punctuation and recapitulation 16 SIMON CRITCHLEY of the actiona technique Malick employed to great effect in Days of Heaven.
In all three of his movies, there is a persistent presence of natural sounds, particularly owing water and birdsong. The sound of the breeze in the vast elds of ripening wheat in Days of Heaven nds a visual echo in what was the most powerful memory I had from my rst viewing of The Thin Red Line: the sound of the wind and soldiers bodies moving through the Kunai grass as Charlie company ascend the hill towards the enemy position.
Nature appears as an impassive and constant presence that frames human conict. There are a number of hermeneutic banana skins that any study of Malicks art can slip up on, particularly when the critic is a philosopher. Before turning more directly to the lm, let me take my time to discuss three of them. First, there is what we might call the paradox of privacy.
Malick is clearly a very private person who shuns publicity. This is obviously no easy matter in the movie business and in this regard Malick invites comparison with Kubrick who, by contrast, appears a paragon of product- ivity. Of course, the relative paucity of biographical data on Malick simply feeds a curiosity of the most trivial and quotidian kind.
I must confess to this curiosity myself, but I do not think it should be sated.
There should be no speculation, then, on the enigmatic Mr Malick, or whatever. But if one restricts oneself to the biographical information that I have been able to nd out, then a second banana skin appears in ones path, namely the intriguing issue of Malick and philosophy.
He studied philosophy at Harvard University between and , graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors. He worked closely with Stanley Cavell, who supervised Malicks undergraduate honors thesis. Against the deeply ingrained prejudices about Continental thought that prevailed at that time, Malick courageously attempted to show how Heideggers thoughts about and against epistemology in Being and Time could be seen in relation to the analysis of perception in Russell, Moore and, at Harvard, C.
Phil in philosophy. He left Oxford because he wanted to write a D. Phil thesis on the concept of world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, and was told by Gilbert Ryle that he should try to write on something more philosophical. Yet the young philosopher decided not to pursue an academic 10 career, but to pass from philosophy to lm, for reasons that remain 1 obscure.
Given these facts, it is extremely temptingalmost overwhelm- 2 ingly soto read through his lms to some philosophical pretext or 3 metatext, to interpret the action of his characters in Heideggerian, 4 Wittgensteinian or, indeed, Cavellian terms. To make matters worse, 5 Malicks movies seem to make philosophical statements and present 6 philosophical positions. Nonetheless, to read through the cinematic image to some identiable philosophical master text would be a mistake, 8 for it would be not to read at all.
This leads 20 me to a third hermeneutic banana skin. To read from cinematic language 1 to some philosophical metalanguage is both to miss what is specic to 2 the medium of lm and usually to engage in some sort of cod-philosophy 3 deliberately designed to intimidate the uninitiated.
I think this move has 4 to be avoided on philosophical grounds, indeed the very best Heideg- 5 gerian grounds. Any philosophical reading of lm has to be a reading 6 of lm, of what Heidegger would call der Sache selbst, the thing itself. A 7 philosophical reading of lm should not be concerned with ideas about 8 the thing, but with the thing itself, the cinematic Sache.
It seems to me 9 that a consideration of Malicks art demands that we take seriously the idea that lm is less an illustration of philosophical ideas and theories 1 lets call that a philoso-fugal readingand more a form of philosophizing, 2 of reection, reasoning, and argument. For a similar line of argument 3 on the relation of philosophy to lm, see Mulhall At the core of this relationship is the question of loyalty, a conict between loyalty to the commands of ones superiors and loyalty to the men under ones command.
This relationship comes to a crisis when Staros refuses a direct order from Tall to lead an attack on a machinegun position of the Japanese. Staros says: Ive lived with these men for two and a half years, and I will not order them to their deathsfor the carnage that the Japanese are causing from their superior hilltop vantage point and the scenes of slaughter are truly awful. Suppressing his fury, Tall goes up the line to join Charlie company and skilfully organizes a anking assault on the Japanese position.
After the successful assault, he gives Staros a humiliating lecture about the necessity of allowing ones men to die in battle. He decides that Staros is not tough-minded enough to lead his men and, after recommending him for the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, immediately relieves him of his commission and orders him back to a desk job in Washington DC.Instead, I will consider two fundamental aspects ofthe film: Malick's adaptation of Jones's novel and the film's relation to the American combat movie.
While the "historical particularity" of Dale's actions might "anchor some of [Malick's] story in history," Streamas - because such mutilation became increasingly common as the campaign wore on - the scene functions not only as a revision of earlier filmic representations of the war; it also shows the appalling emotional struggle of men in combat engaged in dehumanizing behaviour without censure.
The characters in this story are very well-drawn and diverse. The question is rather what drives this common reason. I couldnt nd anything beautiful or uplifting about her going back to God. The Thin Red Line also presents nature as the given, existing world that is beyond or outside the domain of human agency and language.
Ten days later, he returns - to clerking at company headquarters. This manner of construing both our perception 4 of others as minded and of the world as intentionally inected relative 5 to our purposes and embodied nature was elaborated philosophically by 6 Merleau-Ponty and psychologically, in terms of affordances, by J.
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