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Days of Heaven (1978)

NOTE: This commentary is only on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray and October 2007 Criterion DVD releases; the original Days of Heaven DVD did not have a commentary track.

Commentaries on this disc:

Commentary 1: Editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden Rating:7.0/10 (6 votes) [graph]Login to vote or review
Reviewed by zombking on January 23rd, 2008:Find all reviews by zombking
Of course, the commentary we want would come from Malick himself, but we know that just won't happen. That said, these people all have their own good stories about the production of the film, and their interaction is great, in that they don't overlap, nor do they argue or sit around wondering about one small detail from 20 years ago. They're not thrilling, but they have their own angles, all of which are worth hearing.
Reviewed by Jay Olie Espy on August 8th, 2010:Find all reviews by Jay Olie Espy
What you’re going to get from four members of the production team are production notes about the film. From them we get how Terence Malick approached the film and how the production was put together. Some of the commentary highlights include:

1) Principle photography took fourteen weeks in Canada. Nestor Almendros shot nine of those weeks before he had to leave the set to shoot a film for Truffaut, handing Haskell Wexler the responsibility to shoot the rest of the pictures. Nobody, including Almendros, Wexler, and the camera operators, believed that the film could be captured in such low lighting except, of course Malick, who knew the film stock better than anyone, including Kodak. Contrary to popular belief, the film wasn’t always shot at the “magic hour.” Fisk points out a scene that was brilliantly shot as night-for-day as the sun was directly overhead. Some of film was shot with overcast skies lending to a “magic hour” feel.

2) Malick is all about the image. He continually asked if the scene could be done without dialog. The original screenplay was a full-on script, but the dialog was continually whittled down during shooting and editing (editing took two years). He even had the actors play out a scene as someone else off camera recited the lines just so Malick could capture his actor’s body language in order to eschew dialog.

3) When Linda Manz was “discovered,” she was living in a Laundromat with her mother and grandmother in New York. Malick gave Manz the role on the spot when she told him, “I read your script. I like it.” Manz was 15, and then turned 16 during the shoot although she looks like 12-years old. She couldn’t separate the actor from the character and in each scene she kept referring to the characters by the actor’s real name. As a way to help her differentiate between reality and fantasy, Malick changed the names of the characters to Abby, Bill, and Chuck, or A-B-C (ostensibly, “Chuck” is the Farmer’s name). Malick had her record about 60 hours of narration, only of which about 15 minutes is used in the film. The narration was not scripted, but rather created by Manz herself. Malick would show Manz a scene and asked her to describe what was going on.

4) Malick’s first choice to play Bill was John Travolta. Tommy Lee Jones was also in top consideration to play The Farmer because Jones was from Texas and had the accent.

The two men dominate the track putting the women in the backseat. Although together they complete the story behind the production, their comments later become superfluous. For example, unnecessary tidbits like, “That was my dog running behind the car.” “Yeah, he’s my favorite dog in the world, your dog.” “Oh, and that dog cost us $5,000.” While costume designer Patricia Norris contributes the least.

No doubt the best contributor on the track was Crittenden. Her “less is more” approach was a big welcome. She was willing to go on record and disagree with Malick’s choice in actors and the choices he made. For example, Malick wanted to cast Sam Shepard because he was an unknown, but Crittenden disagreed because, first, Shepard had no acting experience, and second, he looked too young and there’d be no conflict in choosing to marry your poor boyfriend or a young rich farmer. She even goes on to say that she didn’t know how Malick got what he wanted because “he wasn’t communicative.”

When Criterion first announced this release, I was not excited about the choices they made for commentary track. I still stand by that. The disc could have been better served if the special features were reversed: a commentary track by John Bailey and/or Haskell Wexler, perhaps another by Sam Shepard and/or Richard Gere, with video interviews of Fisk, Weber, Norris, and Crittenden. Or I would be happy with this track if it was a secondary track paired with one of the recommendations from above or by a film scholar.
The entire set of special features on the disc is dedicated to the production of film and very little of it pays attention to the philosophical meanings behind it or its importance in film history. This makes me dubious about the commentary track on the forthcoming release of The Thin Red Line, especially since it’s such a long movie. I recommend this track if you’re interested in the production side of the film or are a Malick fan, but everyone else may skip.
Reviewed by reidca on April 10th, 2015:Find all reviews by reidca
I thought this was an amazing commentary - if Malick had recorded a commentary for this he would probably be either (1) silent for most of it or (2) would simply narrate the onscreen action. I don't want to hear from Malick, I want to hear from people close to him who work with him and this is what I got. It gave me a tremendous insight into Malick's process and why his films are so contemplative, mysterious and spiritual. I agree the women especially seemed to speak less (especially Crittenden) but I was grateful to hear from them, now that Patricia Norris has passed away this seems like one of the few documents (is this her only commentary?) of her talking about her work. 9/10