And so the prostitute says, “Create the Illusion, but don’t believe it.”
I am not sure if that is Terrence Malick’s thesis with Song To Song, an elliptical fairy tale of despondency, but the film does feature Val Kilmer wielding a chainsaw on stage at the SXSW music festival, so there is that.
It also embeds clips from Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, offers heartbreaking relationship advice from punk rock goddess Patti Smith, cheerfully cuts off Iggy Pop in mid-sentence and makes a little time for Natalie Portman to wait tables and attend church services kitted out in Erin Brockovich inspired push-up bras.
Song to Song is Malick’s fifth film in six years, not including his forthcoming Europe-set WWII epic, to be released later in 2017. Apparently, The film has been in production in one way or another for seven years; long enough to recast Christian Bale (or re-purpose his footage into Knight of Cups) and lose Arcade Fire completely in the editing room. This means that the overall process overlaps all the way back with Tree of Life, the touchstone for his current mode of cinema.
The ongoing price to pay for scrapping conventional storytelling (and, you know, actual scripts) has yielded his work some superb benefits … for those keen to tune into his wavelength. Of course, this is not for everyone, and do not be surprised when many film-goers drawn in by the marquee actors and musician cameos flee the experience in frustration. Like it or not, Malick has, for some time now, been in the business of capturing elusive, immersive, Steadicam dreams of time and place that he subtly bends into narrative in the editing room.
Here he films in the in-between spaces of Texas, be it backstage casual at South By Southwest, the concrete and glass boxes of the wealthy, or windswept desert pools in the wilderness. You would not recognize this as the same Austin in the front half of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof or the sprawling walkabouts of so many a Richard Linkater joint. And though the film features an impressively programmed and multifarious playlist, the soundtrack is less the music, and more the palpable ennui of gorgeous white young things trying to find themselves in a confusing world of indulgence.