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BADLANDS (1973)

Badlands - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the 1973 crime-classic, ‘Badlands’. It was directed by Terrence Malick; it stars Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates; and it’s 94-minutes long. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with a documentary, a theatrical trailer, two face-to-face interviews with Billy Weber and Edward Pressman, as well as an episode of the television program, ‘American Justice’, which focuses on Charles Starkweather. Please enjoy.


Badlands [The Criterion Collection]


THE STORY:
As I sit here by the bank of the river and gaze out over the glistening water shimmering in the sun, I have to wonder, how did it all come to this? How did I get myself into this mess? After all, the only thing I’m truly guilty of is falling in love with someone who has a bad habit of shooting people dead. 

Although, to be fair, he wasn’t always so deranged, because once upon a time both Kit (Martin Sheen) and I were two lost souls going nowhere fast! But then, one bright and sunny day, we met, we fell in love, and we gradually became inseparable the longer we stayed together. In fact, our mutual admiration was so strong and so wholesome, that Kit took it upon himself to shoot my Dad through the heart when he tried to split us up. 

Well, not just my Dad, no, unfortunately not, because he also shot and killed a number of other people as well, including three bounty hunters, one of his old friends, and two teenagers we met by accident. But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes splish, splash, splosh, when I look at my reflection in the water and say, ‘Holly (Sissy Spacek)? I need some help!’. As two lost lovers search for a place to hide - an evil killer takes everything in his stride - a naive young girl doesn’t want to be a bride - and at the end of the day, please remember, despite the beauty, people actually died.




THE REVIEW: 
Badlands’ was based on a horrendous killing spree that took place in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1957 and January 1958. Officially, the culprit was a twenty-year-old trash collector named Charles Starkweather, otherwise known as 'Charlie', who killed eleven people over a one month period, while he was accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. Eventually, the two of them were caught and sentenced for their crimes, which resulted in Charlie being sent to the electric chair, Caril being sent to prison, and their story being sent to the silver screen in a rather unorthodox fashion. 

Badlands - Martin Sheen
Well, unlike many of the other films that chronicle the rise and fall of real-life serial killers, such as Monster (Aileen Wuornos),  Dahmer (Jeffrey Dahmer), or Zodiac (Unknown), to name but a few, this one avoided to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God, in favor of telling another type of truth, an emotional truth, which was cleverly filtered through the two main character’s adolescent point of view. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. If anything, I found it rather refreshing and fairly logical. After all, both Charlie and Caril (now called Kit and Holly) come across as a simple yet naive couple, innocent even, whereas their disturbing story is a strange mixture of youthful exuberance, uncomplicated attitudes, harrowing events, and a minimalist style that's one part Americana and one part Southern Gothic.

Textually, this tender yet pleasant style is reflected in a number of different ways throughout the entire film, most notably through voice-over narration (which was colloquially conveyed by a coquettish Sissy Spacek), picturesque scenery (which added a surprisingly pleasant ambiance to a rather gruesome pretext), smartly positioned camera moves (which gave certain events a somewhat photographic perspective), as well as music, melody, and song that ranged from panpipes, orchestral, to fifties swing (which definitely rooted this film to a specific period and time). 

Now, to some extent, I’d say many of these 'filmic flourishes' managed to epitomize the well-known idiom, less equals more, which in this case means less backstory equals more ambiguity (why the killing?), less judgment equals more excitement (what next?), and less action equals more emotional context (how are things going to end?). In addition to this, I would also like to mention that the pacing of this adventure was fairly slow too. Deliberately slow, some might say, because it purposely made us spend more time with these characters in order to question their unsympathetic attitudes.


Badlands - Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek


Well, let’s face it, why did Kit have a need to kill? Aside for his love of Holly! Why did Holly agree to go along with him? Keeping in mind that she could have escaped whenever she wanted to! And why couldn’t either of them express any emotion for their crimes? Despite the fact, they could express emotion towards each other! Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it's still well worth mentioning because it goes to show that the execution of a story can sometimes mask important information by highlighting the world around us. 

 Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now I think we should sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Warner Bros’ first screened this three-hundred thousand dollar production at the 'New York Film Festival', alongside the Martin Scorsese crime-classic, ‘Mean Streets’. It was held on the 13th of October, 1973. (2) According to the director, Terrence Malick, the names of Charlie and Caril had to be changed to Kit and Holly because one of them was still alive during the time of filming. No. Not Charles Starkweather, as he was electrocuted way back in 1959, but rather, Caril Ann Fugate, who was then facing parole and threatened to sue. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘Nest’ in Ukraine; ‘Young Anger’ in Italy; and ‘Bloody Earth’ in Turkey. (4) Sissy Spacek met her future husband, Jack Fisk, while they were both making this film. She was the actress who played Holly while he was the art director who dressed the sets. (5) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout the American state of Colorado. This includes Otero County, La Junta, Las Animas, Rocky Ford, Trinidad, Delhi, and Pueblo. (6) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states: ‘In 1959 a lot of people were killing time. Kit and Holly were killing people’. (7) This film marks the cinematic debut of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez who play two boys messing about near a rusty old lamppost. Uncredited, of course, and supervised by their father, Martin Sheen! (8) Unfortunately, the man in charge of the special effects was terribly hurt during that scene where Kit set fire to Holly’s parents' house. By mistake, someone who was working under him set off the fire too soon and he was caught in the blaze before he could escape. 


Badlands - Sissy Spacek


In closing my review of ‘Badlands’, I would just like to mention how much I loved watching the performances given by each of the principal actors. Martin Sheen, for instance, plays Kit as if he were a neutered yet sadistic version of James Dean. Whereas Sissy Spacek, on the other hand, plays Holly as if she were a lost imp that’s sexy one minute, impassive the next, yet generally a follower and never a leader. And as for Warren Oates? Well, if truth be told, I would have liked to have seen more of him on screen, but I completely understand that his character only really served his purpose at the start of the adventure.

Actually, while I’m on the subject of purpose, that reminds me: What do you think the ending of this movie was meant to represent? Some say it was basically a statement on how the nature of celebrity can sometimes corrupt people’s minds, while others think it’s a foreshadowing of future serial killers yet to come. As for me, however, well, I suspect it’s a combination of these two statements with an extra added twist. A twist which implies some people are born bad, others have badness thrust upon them, and the rest have to choose which way to turn if given the opportunity. Either way, all in all, this film is a brilliant film as it makes you think about life, death, and the beauty of naïveté as opposed to the ugliness of being deranged. 

THE RATING: A

BADLANDS (1973) BADLANDS (1973) Reviewed by David Andrews on May 20, 2019 Rating: 5

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