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Arts Recommends

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.


Film: ‘Days of Heaven’
There may be no film more beautiful than Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” (1978). In the early 1900s, working-class lovers Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) migrate to the Texas Panhandle, where they begin harvesting wheat for a well-to-do farmer (Sam Shepard). The farmer instantly falls for Abby. When Bill discovers the farmer has a terminal illness, he encourages her to marry him in order to inherit his fortune.

Tragedy naturally ensues, but it’s perhaps the most beautifully rendered American tragedy to date. Most of the scenes were shot during the fabled “magic hour,” that period of dusk when the light is gentle but the sun has already vanished. Beautiful golden fields of grain provide the backdrop for Malick’s story, with the farmer’s haunting, expressionistic homestead mansion reigning over it all.

There’s also a hypnotic quality to the film, owing in part to Malick’s decision to discard most of its scripted dialogue. He instead replaces it with poetic, ethereal voice-overs delivered by Bill’s young sister (Linda Manz). Stories of loves kindled and destroyed are hardly new, but none approaches the sheer physical beauty of “Days of Heaven.”

Books: ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ by Nathanael West
Ever wonder who writes those kitschy newspaper advice columns that purport to solve everyone’s problems? Nathanael West gives a darkly comic response to this question in his 1933 novella “Miss Lonelyhearts.”

At its center is an unnamed writer who gets assigned to write his paper’s “Miss Lonelyhearts” column. Initially he takes it as a joke. Then he begins reading the letters, horrific accounts of spousal abuse, child molestation and physical disability: “I cry all the time it hurts so much and I dont know what to do.” Miss Lonelyhearts finds himself helpless, able only to offer meager words of consolation. No matter how hard he tries to quit, he can’t tear himself away—he reads the letters obsessively “for the same reason an animal tears at a wounded foot: to hurt the pain.” Soon he’s smack dab in the middle of an existential crisis.

Yet, for all that angst, it’s also darkly funny, owing in part to Miss Lonelyheart’s heartless editor (is there any other kind?) who uses the letters to shake the man’s faith: “When the salt has lost its savor, who shall savor it again? Is the answer: None but the Saviour?” There are few books who so grotesquely tear apart notions of human kindness and good will—and that’s why you should read “Miss Lonelyhearts” now.