Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected
Edited by Carlo Hintermann and Daniele Villa
Faber & Faber, 2016; 432 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
Those looking for great insights into the films of Terrence Malick probably won’t find them in Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected. To be fair, how much can Malick fans hope to discover after five decades of mystery surrounding the man and his movies? Malick directed his first film, Badlands, in 1973, which, along with his 1978 follow-up Days of Heaven, rank among the high points of the New Hollywood era. Those movies established his iconic style: lush cinematography and stream-of-conscious narration that’s strikingly poetic. After Days of Heaven, Malick disappeared from the film industry for years until he returned to directing in 1998 with the war movie The Thin Red Line. In the nearly two decades since his return to filmmaking, he’s made several more films, including the highly acclaimed The Tree of Life which, along with his movies To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, have pushed his art beyond narrative into free-flowing tone poems about life and the universe.
The notoriously press-shy Malick has managed to keep the facts of his life and films secret, something that editors Carlo Hintermann and Daniele Villa respectfully avoid to the detriment of the book. Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected is an oral history of how Malick’s films were made, compiled from contemporary and archived interviews with production crew and actors. The book is reverent to a fault when discussing the man and his art, with those involved talking about the mythos of Malick and the rhapsodizing about the unorthodox manners of making his films. Little context is added to the discussion of each movie over the course of sprawling chapters that are as shapeless as Malick’s detractors claim his films to be. Often times the book could have benefited from a more probing look into productions beyond Jessica Chastain chasing a butterfly or more background into Malick beyond his guru-like presence on film sets. Malick has a complex relationship with many of his films and the people he worked with, particularly actors who had their roles vastly reduced or cut entirely (Adrien Brody was famously the star of The Thin Red Line when it was in script form, but the actor had to wait for the premiere to discover his role had been reduced to a few lines).
After discussing The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected grinds to a halt, offering no insights into his two most recent films (To the Wonder and Knight of Cups) or the long in-production projects soon to arrive in theatres. Perhaps that’s for the best, as it would have likely read like the same stories rehashed, especially as Malick has frequently returned to the same crew and the actors have become increasingly irrelevant. Those looking for more meaningful insights into Malick would be better off reading Peter Biskind’s Vanity Fair article “The Runaway Genius” or Jason Guerrasio’s interview with actor Thomas Lennon about his bizarre experience on Knight of Cups.