As could be expected from Terrence Malick, Badlands is a gorgeous picture. There are images you'd like to take off the screen and frame as photographs: peacock feathers in a girl's bedroom consumed by fire; a car kicking up dust under telephone lines in the plains; the sun setting in the clouds outside an airplane…
Like so many great period films, American Graffiti, Bonnie & Clyde, and, more recently, Zodiac, the styling and production never seems forced or over the top. Despite being shot in 1973, everything looks and feels like the late 1950s.
It's a modern masterpiece and my respect for it grows every time I see it. Martin Sheen's trigger-happy psychopath, Kit Carruthers, and Holly, Sissy Spacek's tiny teenage fatalist, come alive on the screen with a rare authenticity for any film, particularly a crime spree drama. Unlike amplified violence in more conventional films, the crazed moments of brutality feel eerily natural and impactive.
The scope of the shots feel vast and untamable but the score, including Carl Orff's Gassenhauer (which my contemporaries will recall from True Romance) adds an opposing sense of intimacy. It's at once a story of larger ideas: reckless freedom, the allure of crime, the celebrity of violence; and the intimate story of two lost people who found each other and tipped over into madness.
The film is loosely based on the real life crime spree of Charlie Starkweather and Caril Anne Fugate (and the song Nebraska from this week's album was inspired by the movie), though the details differ. In fact, the real Starkweather was even more brutal than the character depicted, his methods were more savage, his provocations to kill even less justified and he not only murdered his sweetheart's dad, but her mother and two year old sister too.