Features and Columns · Movies

Chasing Butterflies: Observations on the Visual Style of Terrence Malick

Hope y’all brought your allergy medication because we’re going to be running through some fields.
Terrence Malick A Hidden Life
Fox Searchlight Pictures
By  · Published on June 14th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the visual style of Terrence Malick.

Saying anything concrete about the work of Terrence Malick is like trying to cup water in your hands. He is a notoriously elusive director, reluctant to offer any concrete explanations for his creative choices. Because that would, in effect, defeat the whole purpose of a filmography built on the power of inquiry.

People tend to have strong opinions about Malick’s work. For some, his wandering camera and tendency to stray away from anything resembling a plot is frustrating, pretentious, and arbitrary. For others, Malick’s affective and peripheral approach to storytelling resonates as clearly as a bell, though its virtues are precisely what make his impressionistic approach so difficult to describe.

After making two of the most influential and critically lauded films of the 1970s (Badlands and Days of Heaven), Malick disappeared, as frustrated with Hollywood as Hollywood was frustrated by him. When he returned to movie-making two decades later, his visual “look” — from natural light to wide-angle lenses to seemingly unmotivated camera movement — only intensified.

As the video essay below argues — beautifully and lyrically, I might add — Malick’s unique visual style developed alongside his equally unique approach towards not just filmmaking but also what a film, as a piece of art and poetry, can be. In the 1970s, Hollywood balked at a director who would alter a set-up last-minute to capture footage of spontaneous wildlife. When he returned, Malick (and frequent collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki) found a technical approach that could accommodate the reality of how Malick wanted to make movies: without imposing a narrative and with the freedom to chase butterflies, should they pass by.

Watch “Why Do Terrence Malick’s Movies Look Like That?“:

Who Made This?

This video essay on the visual style of Terrence Malick is by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.