“One of the Most Beautiful Films Ever Made”
DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978/DVD) The words above belong to Roger Ebert and I am in total agreement with him. I remember seeing this film in the theater when it was first released—the music and the photography were mesmerizing. They still are. Days of Heaven was written and directed by the legendary Terrence Malick, his second film after Badlands in 1973 (also wonderful). He then disappeared for 20 years before making The Thin Red Line, in the process becoming even more legendary. Nestor Almendros earned an Oscar for the cinematography in this movie and Ennio Morricone was nominated as well for the music. Morricone rightfully received an Honorary Oscar in 2007. The movie evokes a period in time just before World War I—opening credits run against a backdrop of real photos, then fade to the action which looks identical. Brooke Adams and Richard Gere are cast as lovers (Bill and Abby) pretending to be brother and sister. Their faces are beautiful and fit the period. They could be related, with their dark eyes and dark hair. The story is really told by the little sister, hauntingly played by Linda Manz who was 16 at the time of filming. Where did she go? IMDB sheds very little light on that question. Her voice is quirky and personal. She is our narrator and our view into the story. The other main character is “the farmer,” played by Sam Shepard in one of his very first roles. He is perfect—quiet, observant, yet passionate in his own way. His Texas panhandle farm is the setting for the movie’s real “days of heaven” when beautiful wheat fields wave in the sunlight and wild turkeys wander about. The story that follows is almost biblical—the farmer falls for Abby and Bill encourages her to marry him, thinking he is dying and will be gone in a year. Of course, life never gives us what we plan. By the end, both men are dead, Abby is hopping a train and our little narrator is running away down a railroad track, turning cartwheels. Haunting indeed.
Of note: Ebert notes in his review that Haskell Wexler also contributed to the stunning cinematography—maybe as much as half of it.