By his admittedly scarce standards, Terrence Malick is a positive ball of energy these days. I admit I’ve lost track of his three projects currently in various stages of production — a sentence that would once have been only slightly less absurd than calling the sky green — but his US devotees still have “To the Wonder” to look forward to next month. (Unusually, it opened in the UK a month ago.) The director has fewer critics on his side than usual with this one, but I was a fan at Venice, and remain one.
If you’re in the group left disappointed or even dismayed by “Wonder,” however, you may have more time for Malick’s latest gig: a guest curator at the Philbrook Museum of Art in his current home state of Oklahoma.
Malick has selected four films to screen in July as part of the Tulsa museum’s Films on the Lawn series. There’s nothing in the press release to suggest his involvement goes any further — it’s hard to imagine the reclusive director making extensive public presentations, after all — but the refreshingly non-obvious quartet of films couldn’t have been chosen by anyone else.
In the order they’ll be screened (on consecutive Fridays), they are: John Huston’s “Beat the Devil” (1953), Preston Sturges’s “The Lady Eve” (1941), Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander” (2001) and Malick’s own “Badlands” (1973), the 40th anniversary of which will be marked by the screening.
Of the three non-Malick titles, only “The Lady Eve” is something of a canon choice, and even then, Sturges’s still-sparkling romantic farce isn’t necessarily the first title you’d expect Malick to pick. (I myself considered it heavily when drawing up my own all-time top 10 for Sight & Sound last year.)
Still, despite none of his films even fleetingly resembling a comedy, Malick evidently holds the genre in very high regard: the inclusion of Stiller’s loopy fashion-world satire “Zoolander” may shock some, but he’s spoken before of his love for the film, which he allegedly rewatches on a regular basis. (Again, Malick and I are simpatico on this: I included “Zoolander” in my top 50 of the decade list a few years back.)
“Beat the Devil,” yet another comedy pick, is perhaps the biggest curveball on the roster. Co-written by Truman Capota, Huston’s dryly ironic tale of gold-digging (or rather uranium-digging) fortune hunters headed for Africa was widely by critics (as well as its own star, Humphrey Bogart) upon its release, but continues to build a cult following. This won’t hurt it any.
Meanwhilee, it’d be interesting to know if Malick chose “Badlands” purely because of the anniversary connection, or if he actually favored his lean, mean debut over his other, more expansive films. I guess we shouldn’t expect much in the way of explanations, though. Museum director Rand Suffolk offered his own brief statement: “This collaboration lends a personal touch to our popular series. And what films are more personal than those of Terrence Malick?”
Will any of you be in Tulsa to check out Malick’s selections on the big screen? What do you make of his choices? And which Malick would you choose to show in a museum? Tell us in the comments.