52 Poems, Week 47: Thanks (W.S. Merwin)
52 Poems, Week 48: Danny Deever (Kipling)

Sunday Night Journal, November 25, 2018

Terrence Malick's Tree of Life was released in May of 2011, so it must have been at least sometime in that year that I saw it. Surely I mentioned it here...oh yes, I saw it in August of that year, and here's the brief post I wrote about it. An interesting conversation follows in the comments. 

I saw it in a theater--a small independent one, not a grand one made for big spectaculars, but still vastly superior to home. We didn't even have a flat-screen TV at the time. And contrary to my statement in a comment on that post I decided I really didn't much want to see it at home. The experience was so intense that I knew it wouldn't be replicated there, and would probably be diminished.

For the same reason, I haven't seen Malick's subsequent movies which have been compared to Tree of Life. Either they weren't shown in theaters around here, or I missed them, and I haven't wanted to see them at home. But I finally decided a month or two ago to try Knight of Cups anyway, as there seems to be very little chance that I'll ever see it or To the Wonder in a theater.

Well...either I was right about the Malick Experience being dependent on good equipment, or I just didn't like Knight of Cups as much. I liked it but that's damning with faint praise compared to my reaction to Tree of Life. Maybe the subject matter--a Hollywood screenwriter (I think) lost in a hedonistic wilderness, with some suggested family trauma in the background--didn't hit home to me in the way that Tree did. It's hard to say. It's beautiful, but it didn't seem as beautiful.


Still exercising what remains of my FilmStruck subscription, I watched a movie which I think was on my Netflix list at one time, but disappeared before it reached the top. Or maybe it wasn't. Anyway, it's not available on Netflix now, but it is on FilmStruck: the 1975 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely--starring Robert Mitchum, who had always been the obvious perfect choice to play Phillip Marlowe. By 1975 he was really too old, but that doesn't matter much. This is a great film if you like this sort of thing: imagine the best of '40s and '50s crime drama, based on a classic detective novel, filmed in color and in general with more sophisticated technique all around than had been available thirty years earlier (and, of course, more explicit sexual talk and nudity, but not an excessive amount by later standards). That of course is no guarantee of improvement, and in fact could easily have been a de-provement. But in this case it isn't. 

There's a Criterion Collection intro on the site which suggests that the movie may be a little too perfect, adhering too closely to convention. I don't think so. I mean, it's not some great creative leap forward, but it doesn't need to be. It certainly belongs in the noir canon, born out of time though it is. I had not previously heard of the director, Dick Richards, who, I see from Wikipedia, also directed Tootsie. Ugh. 

Mitchum played Marlowe once more, in a late '70s remake of The Big Sleep, which I have seen and which I don't think is very good. Not that it's badly executed, but the filmmakers decided to set it in London and in the then-present day, which in my opinion didn't work very well. The book is just too 1930s and too Los Angeles. 


I don't remember how I got there, but I followed someone's link to this discussion in The New Yorker of the recent release of several thousand or so alternate takes from Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. (See recent discussion here.) The second sentence stopped me in my tracks, and may have left a trace of psychological blood there:

It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.”'

My incredulous emphasis. I mean, I think Blood on the Tracks is a really good album (though not a favorite of mine, as I mentioned in that discussion). But as it happened I had just finished listening to Winterreise, and I just don't see the two works as being of the same order (though Winterreise is a song cycle, so there is that fundamental similarity of form). I suppose I can't support that claim without sounding elitist. I think Schubert's work is more complex, more varied, more profound...etc.--I don't want to belabor it, but if "worthy of comparison" means "of comparable worth," I disagree.

I figured well, you know, these pop music critics, they don't really know much else. Then I looked at the byline of the piece. It's by Alex Ross, who has more knowledge of classical music than I can dream of, in part because he has more musical sensitivity than I can dream of ("Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge"). He's the author of a highly-regarded history of 20th century music, The Rest is Noise, which I am currently (and slowly) working my way through. 

So who am I to disagree with Alex Ross? Nobody. But...I do. It would be interesting to know what critics and audiences of the 23rd century will think. I'd be willing to be that Schubert will still be considered a great artist. I'm not so sure about Dylan. 

By the way: the Winterreise recording was this one, by Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach. It was recently given to me by a friend who was concerned that the recording I have, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jorg Demus, from the mid-'60s, wasn't going to truly convince me of the greatness of the cycle. Well, as I'm always quick to point out, I'm not all that sensitive to nuances of classical performance...or maybe I am without realizing it, because the newer recording engages me more. F-D sounds somewhat bombastic in comparison. And yes, it's a very great work. My friend has converted me to her enthusiasm for both the work and the performance.


I have just finished reading a book that I've had in process for several months. I found it pretty slow going at first, but about halfway through I got very interested and pressed on fairly quickly. The book is English Reformations, by Christopher Haigh. It might be described (very roughly) as a more concise version of Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, in that it is a history of English religion as it changed during the Protestant Reformation. I have Duffy's book, got bogged down in it (apparently on page 84, where there is a bookmark), and wandered off onto something else. That was a couple of years ago, and my priest (ex-Anglican) recommended Haigh's book as a way of surveying some of the same territory. 

The two books probably should be considered as companions rather than alternatives. Duffy focuses on the details of religious practice, Haigh on events and people. Perhaps Haigh is a good prelude to Duffy. 

Anyway: if Haigh is correct, the English Reformation was in no sense a popular movement. Or, I should say, as he does, Reformations. In his view there were four:

  • Henry's, which was essentially political, involved the declaration of supremacy and the plundering of the monasteries, but was otherwise meant to remain Catholic;
  • Edward's, which was full-on Protestant and imposed on an unwilling populace;
  • Mary's, which was full-on Catholic and, though brutal to the defiant, was more welcomed than not by the people, and would have succeeded permanently had she not died when she did, leaving a Protestant succession;
  • Elizabeth's, which was Protestant but in a latitudinarian sort of way, fundamentally more concerned with the politics of the time.

I'd like to quote Haigh's very interesting conclusion at enough length to do it justice, but it's too long. One of its points, though, is that when the dust settled, the dust had not really settled. There was no real consensus. There was a minority of seriously and consciously committed Protestants--the Puritans and others--another of seriously and consciously committed recusant Catholics, another of what he calls "old Catholics"--in the main unsophisticated people, mostly well away from London, who simply wanted to go on doing what they had always done. And there was a majority of what he calls "parish anglicans" (uncapitalized), who were more or less of the same temperament as old Catholics but were willing to go along with the new ways and teachings. The first group disdained the other three, and was in turn disdained by them: a pattern still in evidence.

Given the official, decisive, unambiguous rejection of most of Catholic theology and ecclesiology by the Church of England, I am puzzled as to why any Anglicans ever believed that their Church, as church, had any claim to continuity. I don't wonder that Newman left; I do wonder that anyone in the Oxford Movement remained.


Sunset from a different angle.



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Tree of Life is certainly much better than the other two, Mac. I saw all three on my own television, which I thought was big enough to enjoy Malick's vision. But I'm sure Tree of Life was particularly glorious on a much larger screen!

I'm just impressed that you even read that stuff! I have a couple of Karl Rahner books from a class I ended up not taking, and I keep telling myself I will read them....then I read more fiction.

Rahner is probably both more difficult and more boring than history.

I saw Tree of Life at the Crescent, by the way. I don't think I've been back since, because it's pretty inconvenient for us. I feel a touch guilty because I'd like to support them. But not at the price of being inconvenienced, of course.

That's a great picture. Some little thing fell off the back of my phone, and now I can't get a decent exposure. I'm getting a new phone today, and am happy to think I can take pictures again--even though they will likely be shaky.

I did not make it very far in Knight of Cups. It was subject matter that didn't hold my interest. Aside from the sheer beauty of Tree of Life, it was the family, and their relationships that drew me in. I have started to watch To the Wonder twice, and maybe I watched the whole thing the second time, but maybe I never got back to the last half hour. I would like to finish it, but I would have to watch the first hour and a half again. Maybe I should give Knight a try.

That book on the Reformation sounds interesting. Although I used to read a lot of history when my kids were in school, it has been about 15 years since I read anything much but fiction. Now, since I have to read the books I have, I have read mostly non-fiction for the past year, and have really enjoyed it.

Still, I would really like to read a good novel.


I tend to see most non-fiction as a duty and frequently a chore.

Kinda glad to hear you & Stu say the other Malick movies are not quite as good.

The picture btw is the light of the setting sun falling through a space between trees. That's really pretty much the way it looked, though of course the photo is a little disappointing as usual.

Speaking of good novels, I'm about 50 pages into All the King's Men and it's *really* good.

I will have to check that out.


All the King's Men has been on my list to read for a long time. Everyone says it is great. I have not been able to read since my move, so easing back into it I just picked the first "A" on the shelf...you will laugh, Little Women by Louisa Alcott, which I am finding quite delightful. I'm sure that Janet has read it, not so sure about Mac. ;)

It's great.


No, Mac has not read it. But I have known something about it since I was about 10 and my older sister and cousin were reading it. Everybody wants to be Jo, as I recall.

There was a recent PBS adaptation that I enjoyed.

Well, of course. Amy [redacted], and Meg [redacted], and Beth [redacted].


Oh dear, that's a spoiler. Sorry Stupid.


It's hard to compare ToL with Malick's other recent films, but then I'd say it's hard to compare it with most other films, masterpiece that it is.

I've watched To the Wonder and Knight of Cups twice each, and Song to Song once. KoC worked better for me on the second viewing, as it's one of those movies that has something of a revelatory ending that provides much of the meaning for what's gone before. But I don't think it's as good as TtW, which I'd rank after ToL.

I didn't like Song to Song nearly as much as the other two, although I did find the ending rather striking. I may watch it again at some point but it's not high on my list.

I'll have to read Haigh. I've dipped into Duffy a couple times over the years but the amount of detail he provides exceeded my level of interest, so maybe Haigh is the ticket. I did read this:


which I may have mentioned, and as an Austen fan and a general Anglophile enjoyed it very much.

Thanks for the tip on Farewell My Lovely. I've often wondered if it was any good.

Just finished watching the final episodes of the Brannagh Wallander series, and also the four episodes of the newish Rowan Atkinson Maigret. Liked them all. From what I understand Atkinson doesn't look like the Maigret from the books (I take it that in the novels he's a bit large and lumbering) but that he's got the personality down quite well.

When first watching it it's hard to not think of Mr. Bean, and I was half expecting Maigret to pull a face or do something else Bean-like. But this soon passed, and I quickly came round to the fact that Atkinson's actually a pretty good dramatic actor. There's a moral seriousness and even a nobility that he's able to bring out in the character.

I'm not sure it was needed, but I censored your spoiler, Janet. And then some.

In hopes of allowing Stu's experience of this book to remain pristine. ;-)

I can't remember where it was, but not too long ago I saw Atkinson in a small dramatic role and was similarly surprised at how good he was. He probably curses Mr. Bean sometimes. The Maigret series is not on Netflix. Like more and more of the Brit stuff, it's only available for streaming with Britbox. But I see you can "buy" it on Amazon.

I got the DVD set from the library.

Haigh vs Duffy: Haigh has a lot of detail, too, and that was what slowed me down at first. Also on my part a general inability to keep track of the action, so to speak, in reading history with any great level of detail. Haigh's approach tends to be: make a broad observation and then support that with a lot of detail from primary sources. Sometimes the quotes from these are very intriguing.

In 1560-something there was a shortage of ministers who could preach--apparently some kind of license was required, which Haigh does not explain, assuming we know. The wardens of a parish complained:

"We are not sure now of any minister, and if we have such as we have had commonly heretofore they will do us more harm than good, for some of them were liars, some drunkards and blasphemers, some borrowers of horse and money and ride away with all."

Ha. I think the first two are evident from the very beginning, but the third needed to go. ;-)


I enjoyed Knight of Cups, but I saw it in the theatre with a couple of young folks. If I had seen it on my DVD player at home, I probably would have given up

E. coli? I'm so sorry.


Me too! Misery...

That Austen book does sound interesting, Rob. "Far from acquiescing in the Whig dogma...": a number of times while reading the Haigh book I thought of G.M. Trevelyan's history of England. Very much an adherent of the Whig dogma, and totally confident of it: Henry was quite right to dissolve the monasteries and take their land--all those good-for-nothing monks sitting around doing nothing, tying up resources that could have been used for war with France. He sounds ludicrous in light of Haigh's account.

I watched all of the first one of Atkinson's Maigret series, and had a very hard time not seeing a man trying his best to keep Mr. Bean under wraps. How else to explain why his face barely moves at all?

The two other Maigrets I'm familiar with are Michael Gambon, who did a British series in the early 1990s, and Bruno Cremer, who did a French series in the 1990s/early 2000s. Both very good.

Oh yeah, I remember that Michael Gambon one. I think I watched at least some of it but don't remember what I thought of it. Probably didn't dislike it but obviously it didn't make a lasting impression.

Luckily I'm just getting back to the blog now, and my memory of the Little Women movie from the 1990s is very dim, so my reading experience can remain pristine.

Grumpy, feel better!!

Get well, Grumpy. I had salmonella once so I can sort of feel your pain!

"I watched all of the first one of Atkinson's Maigret series, and had a very hard time not seeing a man trying his best to keep Mr. Bean under wraps. How else to explain why his face barely moves at all?"

I thought that at first too, but by the time I watched the second one I'd gotten past it. My impression is that Maigret is a bit of a Stoic, and Atkinson seems to play him that way.

I watched a few of the Gambon ones many years ago and liked them, but I think I'm going to read a couple of the books before I go back to them. As it happens my local library just got the complete Gambon series on DVD.

I just looked at Atkinson's filmography on Wikipedia and I don't see anything that could have been the brief dramatic part I mentioned. Maybe it was too small or maybe I'm confused.

I'm in much the same boat as Rob re: Malick. I've seen TtW and KoC twice each, and I admire both of them, with a slight edge to KoC, but I was disappointed by StS, which I've seen only once. None of them, though, come close to Tree of Life. I'd even argue that they fall short of what he did in The New World and The Thin Red Line. But I do think TtW and KoC are very good films, and were better on second viewing.

I recently learned that a short film, Thy Kingdom Come, has been made from footage Malick collected but did not use in To the Wonder. Scenes of Fr Quintana (Javier Bardem) visiting with people. I'd be interested to see it.

Mac, I also saw that Alex Ross piece in which he compares Blood on the Tracks to Winterreise. I think the best we can say is that this is an exaggeration. Ross knows music, but I've noticed that he suffers from an allergy to elitism -- a big problem when your great love is elite music! So he is prone to blurring the lines between, say, Rachmaninov and Radiohead. He tends to talk up the pop music rather than talking down the classical music, which, if you're going to make this error, is the better way to make it. But, still, his commentary on pop music has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Matthias Goerne has a special place in my heart: the first date I went on with my (now) wife was to hear him sing.

Have any of you seen Badlands? I started it once and stopped after 20 minutes or so, because I just wasn't in the mood for the sort of grim story it was obviously going to be.

What you say about Alex Ross confirms the suspicion that had formed in my mind. I think it's a fairly common syndrome among fine-arts lovers. As I think is fairly obvious I am deeply attached to a lot of popular music and would defend to the death its value. But I still think there's a pretty big gap between, as in this instance, Dylan and Schubert.

That's certainly a good reason for Goerne to have a special place in your heart. I'm not at all up on classical performers, especially singers, and had never heard of him before.

By the way, re the recent discussion here about the merits of owning vs. streaming, cds vs. electronic formats, and all that: this disk is very beautifully and usefully packaged. Made me look more favorably on the idea of buying cds for certain things. It's from Harmonia Mundi.

I saw Badlands once. It's not a bad film, but I found it disappointing after the glories of Malick's later films. Without being told I'd never have guessed he directed it. Probably the best thing about it is the voiceover (surprise!) narration by the female character, which is strangely off-kilter but pitched perfectly straight. On the other hand, it made a big enough splash on first release to draw the approving attention of critics, so perhaps I am undervaluing it.

Harmonia Mundi makes a big effort to produce physically beautiful packaging for their music. It's an admirable commitment, although one that I too often fail to appreciate.

In reference to Malick's voice-overs, what does everyone think of them? What I mean is, do you believe it is important to hear all of what is said, which would require you to turn on the subtitles and then not view the amazing photography quite as close, or should you just let it wash over you catching maybe 50% of it. When you start reading it, it doesn't seem to matter that much.

I guess I'm in the camp of all these voice-overs could go away and I'd be happier with the films.

I basically like them. At least, judging by my reaction to Knight of Cups. But then I tend to have subtitles on all the time, mainly from watching so much British stuff where I sometimes can't understand what they're saying. Not to mention that my hearing is not what it once was. I don't remember giving it any thought one way or the other with Tree of Life.

I have four at home: Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and The New World. My plan is to re-watch all and try not to worry about the voice-overs, just hear what I happen to hear. I sort of think that is Malick's intent.

I saw Badlands in the cinema when it first came out. I was a teenager and I saw it with my brother who is a couple of years older. I remember the film quite Vividly. I remember also That my parents did not like it. I think they were quite disturbed by our admiration for the film. My mother did not like the costumes. She thought that the characters were not well expressed through the costumes. I think both of my parents thought it was one more gangster movie where the gangsters are the heroes and they worried about us liking that kind of movie. It was not an easy thing to disagree with my parents. But I think both my brother and I knew that they were wrong. And looking back I feel as if it was one time when we disagreed with our parents about an artistic matter and we were on to something.

Well, now I'm curious about it. One reason I bailed out was that I was getting the feeling that it was going to be what your parents apparently feared: a sort of nihilistic "aren't these murderers cool for rebelling against middle-class society" thing.

Now of course looking back I see Badlands in the light of Treebof Life and Knight of Cups, both patently religious movies. Maybe that’s wrong I just don’t know.

Im so tired I feel just like a ghost as BD once put it

There were so many movies like that in that era

Yeah I immediately thought of Bonnie & Clyde, which was one of the first of those.

Tree of Life came over 30 years after Badlands, and after a 20-year-or-so period of releasing no movies at all. He could have changed a lot over that period.

Tired is much preferable to having E. Coli, isn't it?

I'd say the voice-overs are important in that they often are taking the place of dialogue. Malick is much more interested in showing than telling, but I also think sound is important to him, otherwise he wouldn't be so particular about the music he chooses. He and Lynch are a lot alike in that way.

Badlands is the only film of his I've not yet seen. And it's been ages since I've watched Days of Heaven.

Am I the only one here who's seen A Ghost Story? (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara).

A Ghost Story is in my Netflix queue, but not yet risen to the top.

I saw Days of Heaven when I was 17 or 18. It was long and slow, sort of panning on watching the buttercups open while a bug crawls up the stem for ten minutes.

I've seen Days of Heaven twice; it's a really good film, even though it has Richard Gere in it. I like it much more than Badlands. Some of Malick's later signatures are starting to appear: Grumpy mentioned the insects on stems, but there are also quite beautiful landscapes. It's well worth seeing.

Rob, I've seen Ghost Story too! I liked much of what it was doing, but I found the overall effect somehow missed the mark. A few aspects of it threw me out of the saddle. But it's a haunting film, in all the good senses of that word. I sure liked watching Mara eat cake!

While sick over Thanksgiving I watched The Kominsky Method. Its very enjoyable comedy

Its on Netflix not HBO

Saw the ad for it but am predisposed to assume comedies involving old people are not to my taste. "Here's an old lady cussing and making a dirty joke--isn't that hilarious ha ha ha." It's not like that?

No its not like that.

Its about oldage and death. Its not deep but its light enjoyment and beUtifully acted. One of the old man is Michael Douglas and I looked up the other old man and he played the old man in Little Miss sunshine which is one of my favorite movies

I'll give it a try. Haven't seen Little Miss Sunshine.

Little Miss Sunshine is really great, Mac. Nietzsche, Proust, child pageants ... it has it all!

Alan Arkin, he won an Oscar for the role

I will take it under consideration. :-)

Not on Netflix.

"it's a haunting film, in all the good senses of that word"

Yes, I wasn't sure how I felt about it after the first viewing (in the theatre) but as you say, it stuck with me, and when I watched it the second time at home I was much more struck by it.

The friend that I saw it with was underwhelmed the first time, but he said the same thing -- it really stuck with him, even after all this time. He hasn't watched it again yet, though (he's generally not a re-watcher).

Did you know that the director's father is a theology prof at the Univ. of Dallas? I found that interesting in light of some of the film's themes.

Hated Little Miss Sunshine!

I agree about Little Miss Sunshine. Just thinking about the damage done to that child while making the movie makes me sick.


Hmm, I don't want to see anything like that. Child pageants are a weird thing. A year or two ago I stayed in a hotel where a lot of people who were participating in one of those were staying. Seeing those little girls (I mean little girls, 6 or 7 or under) all dolled up was creepy.

That was certainly a big point of the movie, how creepy a child pageant is.

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