‘Song To Song’ or — Hanging With The Fannies?
I’ve got a pretty high tolerance level for Terrance Malick and his shenanigans. I’m a fan but I’m not blind to, or unaffected by, his more grating tendencies of which he has many, so if someone told me they thought Malick hadn’t made a genuinely great film since ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011), or even ‘The Thin Red Line’ (1998), I wouldn’t argue the point. Yet even his more exasperating films would contain something I could latch onto even as my eyeballs rolled about my head with such ferocity that the molecular integrity of my skull was in danger of collapsing at everything else that was happening on screen.
Well, it seems as though total collapse has now been achieved with ‘Song To Song’ (2017) which takes an already irritating Malick obsession — shooting vacuous, good-looking rich and famous people twirling around in empty show room apartments — and leans on it so hard everything else, anything of any substance, is completely pressed out the picture. It was a problem in ‘Knight of Cups’ (2015) where we followed Christian Bale’s writer looking for meaning in a meaningless movie but here Malick elevates hollowness to new artistic heights. I guess when something is this insubstantial the only way it can go is upwards.
My main issue with ‘Song To Song’ is either with the characters or the actors playing them and I can’t figure out which, possibly because it seems nobody is acting and, instead, just ‘being’ so I can’t decide if it’s music producer Cook or musician BV who get on my nerves or if I genuinely don’t like Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling as human beings… and I have the hunch it’s the latter.
And when the actors are acting they’re simply doing the usual shit all actors do in Terrence Malick movies — spinning about, running finger tips over the top of grass, wandering about looking vaguely pensive as though waiting for a family pet to come out of a coma, mumbling about life, running their finger tips over each others finger tips, lifting each other up whilst laughing, hanging upside down, having awkward existential riddled art-sex etc — and basically doing all the kinda shit nobody actually does in real life other than IN a Terrence Malick movie. It means Malick has now gone way beyond self-parody and into a whole new realm of existence where he might be able to achieve self-parody all over again except this time in a higher dimension. So that’s something of an artistic achievement, I guess.
Fassbender and Gosling don’t help matters providing the feeling that Malick has deliberately cast the most shallow, uncharismatic, good looking vessels available in Hollywood to irritate his audience — ‘Try empathising with THIS asshole!’ seems to be his challenge to the viewer. Yet Malick has always had this inability to resist some Hollywood surface sheen. Look at his leading men — Affleck, Gosling, Bale etc — although, for me, this also goes back to Richard Gere’s hair in ‘Days of Heaven’ (1978), a hair style so anachronistic with its American dust-bowl setting it would’ve look less out of place if there was a space shuttle coming into land in some of the shots.
But back to ‘Song To Song’ which is about a love rectangle (that sexiest shape of all the love shapes) set against the Austin, Texas music festival. And, amazingly, we do get to see some tiny flashes of a music festival actually going on when Malick isn’t shooting his actors performing emotive clichés for the camera. There’s bursts, snippets, of rock and pop music but before we think Malick might be letting his hair down he hits us with Saint-Saëns and Kanchelli just to remind us we’re watching art.
It could be easy to dismiss latter day Malick as simply concerned about first world people concerned with first world problems although I think that’s somewhat inaccurate because, quite frankly, I have no idea what fucking world any of these idiots is living on. It’s most certainly one I don’t recognise.