“Certainly Kit’s story, like that of Charles Starkweather and indeed, that of Warshow’s gangsters, will end in his solitary demise, precisely because his actions have set him apart from others. Death alone, then, is the only possible outcome. But the narrative trajectory of Badlands is not so much rise and fall, as flat and flatter, flat as the Great Plains that provide the setting for Kit’s final hours as a fugitive.”
Some American dreamers refuse to die. Those created on celluloid, those wandering through iconic movies, have an advantage. I meet them repeatedly, sometimes by surprise while surfing the television channels late at night, sometimes by design. Select films may make a return to the cinema screen, or failing that, I pull out a DVD copy and curl up alone on the sofa. In this way, there are dreamers I rediscover many times, perhaps not with my original innocence entirely intact, but then again, I trust most Hollywood films to put me in the dark, safely and formulaically, and return me to that state as often as desired. This ritual power of cinema has gradually diminished since the advent of television and more recently, internet streaming, but it has not yet disappeared. I collude with film, in my own dreaming, perhaps more than any other cultural form. And the dreamers still speak to me. Take Kit Carruthers and Holly Sargis:
Kit walks through the deserted alleys of the sleeping town … as the MAIN TITLES APPEAR. He balances a stolen mop on his finger; he stomps a can and looks around to see if anyone has spotted him at this. As the CREDITS end he sees Holly in front of her house twirling her baton. He crosses the street and introduces himself.
EXT. FRONT LAWN
Hi, I’m Kit. I’m not keeping you from anything important, am I?
Well, I was just messing around over there, thought I’d come over
and say hello to you. (smiling) I’ll try anything once. (pause)
What’s your name? I said mine.
Listen, Holly. You want to take a walk with me?
Well. I got some stuff to say. Guess I’m kind of lucky that way. Most people don’t have anything on their minds, do they?1
Badlands was Terrence Malick’s first feature-length film. As the credits end, 25-year-old Kit Carruthers, a garbage collector for the town, meets his soon-to-be girlfriend: the baton twirling, 15-year-old schoolgirl Holly Sargis. When Holly’s widowed father discovers and forbids the relationship, Kit shoots him dead and torches the family house, leaving the father’s remains to be found along with a gramophone recording cum suicide note suggesting that Holly and Kit also perished in the fire. After collecting Holly’s school books from her locker (“so I wouldn’t fall behind,” Holly tells us), the two roll out of town in Kit’s car to a life on the run that will result in several more murders committed by Kit before they are captured.
Kit and Holly personify the tangled lines of history and geography, myth, movies, mass culture, and stories of self-invention that run through many of our American biographies. Kit is a composite character drawn from at least three other composite characters: real-life murderer turned cult figure (Charles Starkweather), dead actor also turned cult figure (James Dean), and Jim Stark, the misunderstood juvenile delinquent played to perfection by Dean in the Nicholas Ray film Rebel Without a Cause. By most accounts, Starkweather modeled his looks and attitude on James Dean or perhaps more particularly, Jim Stark. Rebel Without a Cause was released in October 1955, one month after its leading actor’s fatal crash near Salinas, California, and two years before Starkweather began murdering people.
In the winter of 1957-58, Starkweather embarked on a killing spree across Nebraska and Wyoming, accompanied by his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. Starting with a gas station attendant in Lincoln, Nebraska, Starkweather turned next to his girlfriend’s family, shooting her mother and stepfather first, then moving on to Caril’s two-year-old sister, Betty Jean, who was clubbed, strangled, and stabbed to death. After hiding the bodies around the house, the couple lived there for a week, turning away visitors by attaching a note to the front door – “Stay a Way Every Body is sick with the Flue” (sic). They then set off on a road trip that resulted in seven more deaths before finally being captured near Douglas, Wyoming. In 1959, Starkweather was executed by electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, while Fugate was given a life sentence and released on parole in 1976.
In casting the young Martin Sheen as Kit Carruthers, Malick reenacted the Charles Starkweather / James Dean / Jim Stark persona, with Sheen giving a terrifying performance of an outlaw who looks like Dean/Stark and acts like Starkweather.
As the film opens, Kit is on the garbage round in Fort Dupree, South Dakota. He sports tight jeans, a denim jacket over a white tee shirt, cowboy boots, and a Jim Stark hairstyle. In a cross-cut, Holly (played by a young Sissy Spacek in her second feature film) is shown on a quiet, residential street nearby, practicing baton. Dressed in white shorts and a navy blue tee shirt, Holly twirls expertly, whispering the choreographed routine to herself.
Born in 1954, I recall cultivating a look much like Holly’s: tiny shorts or basic jeans, white socks, loafers or saddle shoes, simple tee shirts or cotton shirts with button-down collars worn long over the jeans. Occasionally a ruffled, pastel blouse tucked into a wide swing skirt. From tomboyish to hyper-feminine and back again. Seeing Holly on screen for the first time, in 1975 or so, I wanted her waif’s build, fresh skin, and vaguely blank, untried expression. Sissy/Holly was wide-eyed and indecipherable; her appeal was immediately recognizable to a baby boomer coming of age in the early seventies and watching Malick’s film in student or art-house cinemas. In those opening minutes of Badlands, on my first viewing – in truth, even on subsequent viewings with the knowledge of what was to come – during those initial scenes, I wanted to be Holly.
And I wanted to live where Holly lived. Not only was she peachy pretty, childlike and mysterious, but her town had a red brick Main Street and Edward Hopper frame houses, each with its own shady porch and set back from the road, surrounded by large, tidy lawns. The air on Holly’s street was so thick with prelapsarian innocence and deep summer that heat shimmered above the pavement and drifted into the movie theatre, carrying the sound of doves and rustling leaves and very occasionally, the low hum of an oversized car gliding along.
A child of fifties suburbia, I turned weak at the knees at my first sight of Holly’s immediate setting. Postwar suburbia sold itself, in part, by invoking a small town imaginary that it never quite delivered. Even now, as late as 2014, Holly’s house and street make me long to be duped again, even if it means forgetting the violence to come in the film, and forgetting too, the violence embedded and hidden in my own childhood spaces. As a historian of suburbia, I uncovered its social and political economy, its particular deceptions, the race exclusions and segregations upon which many of these postwar communities were built. To long for them now would mean setting knowledge aside.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I long to go where Holly was. To long for a particular place or for a return home is nearly always to long for the past, for childhood, for a time before knowledge and adult responsibilities. Consider Kant’s comment about nostalgia or homesickness that when homesick people revisit the places of their youth, “they are greatly disappointed in their expectations and thus also find their homesickness cured. To be sure, they think that this is because everything there has changed a great deal, but in fact it is because they cannot bring back their youth there.”2
In fact, my nostalgia is more likely in remission than permanently cured. It waits for me to weaken, and if the violent unfolding of Holly’s story seems to offer a cure, my relief is only temporary, reset at the end of the film, ready to go again with the opening credits at the next viewing, some months hence. I can go back; I can find the sun glancing on Holly’s baton every time. That is in the nature of nostalgia, it both is and isn’t what it used to be.3 So after repeated screenings over many years, I am regularly seized by a waking dream, a desire to stroll down the street of hot American summer and tag alongside the baton twirler.
Holly’s street is so powerfully rendered that I always forget how Malick undercuts this scene by spending much more of the opening sequence with Kit on his garbage run than with Holly and her baton. Kit finds a dead dog set out with the trash by one householder, and offers Cato, his workmate, a dollar to eat the dog. They leave the dog behind, idly wondering aloud whether it’s a collie or some other breed, before Kit announces that he’s “throwed enough trash for today” and sets off in the direction of Holly’s street. Yet no matter how many times I see it, none of this stays in my mind after the film. What I remember about its opening sequence is Holly, her baton, her house, lawn, and street. Her humming and twirling. I have fallen in love, all over again, with girlhood and hometown America, seemingly safe, and causing no harm to others. I am at one with Holly who, in her opening narration, says, “Little did I realize that what began in the alleys and back ways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.” I willingly lose myself in a Holly-world that is forever before the appearance of Kit Carruthers.
In Malick’s conception and in Sheen’s performance, Kit Carruthers is dull, deadly dull. He will, after all, murder a number of people across the American Badlands. Kit and Holly both, initially at least, seem so dull that it makes them fascinating; you can’t take your eyes off the screen for trying to figure them out. Did the town, the same town I find so mesmerizing, make them this way? What makes them tick, what if anything, is behind the unlined faces, the monotone, artless, half-finished conversations? How do two young people manage to look so beautifully benign and yet menace the person who looks?
In a rare interview given to Sight and Sound magazine in 1975,4 Terrence Malick made a series of helpful remarks about Kit and Holly. First, he understood them both in the context of place – regional America – in this case the Midwest and the South. He described Holly in terms of her southern politeness, propriety, and unworldliness. These elements, according to Malick, contribute to her strange affect – her bland accounts of the murders, the withholding of personal feelings of grief. “Holly’s southernness is essential to taking her right. She isn’t indifferent about her father’s death … You should always feel there are large parts of her experience she’s not including because she has a strong, if misplaced sense of propriety.”
In the same interview, Kit was explained as a different regional construct, a Midwesterner. “And there’s something about growing up in the Midwest … People imagine it’s the kind of place where your behaviour is under constant observation, where you really have to toe the line. They got that idea from Sinclair Lewis. But people can really get ignored there and fall into bad soil. Kit did, and he grew up like a big poisonous weed.”5 Kit was also, according to Malick, a departure from Hollywood’s previous handling of characters who have “tasted more than their share of bitterness in life. The movies have kept up a myth that suffering makes you deep. It inclines you to say deep things … It teaches you lessons you never forget. People who’ve suffered go around in movies with long, thoughtful faces, as though everything had caved in just yesterday. It’s not that way in real life, though, not always. Suffering can make you shallow and just the opposite of vulnerable, dense. It’s had this kind of effect on Kit.”
We are invited then, to place Kit and Holly in a geography of Americanness, a mapping of identity, biography, and regional difference explored, at least at the time of Badlands’ release, perhaps more extensively in literature than on film.6 The couple are as shaped by geographical location as is Natty Bumppo/Hawkeye in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales or Alexandra Bergson in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! Indeed, Malick claimed the creation of Kit and Holly owed more to books than movies, citing The Hardy Boys, Swiss Family Robinson, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Nancy Drew. And as in some of the titles Malick cites, Badlands is also about a radical severance of place and identity. Kit and Holly’s youthful romance, even before its attendant violence, turns them into “innocents abroad” and in Malick’s view, this, more than the fifties setting, shapes their story. Moreover, just as Huck Finn’s voice makes Twain’s novel, just as Holden Caulfield’s voice makes The Catcher in the Rye, Badlands is heavily reliant on the speech of its characters. In Holly’s retrospective voice-over, and in the exchanges between Kit and Holly, I can almost see the spare scripted lines, delivered like a child’s first steps across a white page, word by word. It is like being privy to a first “read through” by earnest amateurs.
The brilliance of the performances is that this sense of unguarded speech is retained throughout the film. And as we have seen, Kit has things on his mind and a yen to say them. That is precisely why it was Malick’s stroke of genius to give the narrative voice of the film to Holly. It is Holly who tells the story from the start; nearly all of Kit’s words, attitudes and actions are recalled and given to us through her. He appears first as an attractive, older, worldly stranger.
“He was handsomer than anybody I’d ever met,” Holly says. “He looked just like James Dean.” But she undercuts Kit almost immediately. “Well, stop the world,” she says listlessly, the second time Kit comes calling for her. Indeed, Kit seems to lose credibility for Holly the instant he takes an interest in her. “As I’d never been popular in school and didn’t have a lot of personality,” she states, “I was surprised that he took such a liking to me, especially when he could’ve had any other girl in town if he’d given it half a try.”
Yet by Holly’s own account, impassive in tone but drawing on popular images of romance, “Little by little we fell in love.” Thereafter, the jarring discrepancies between Holly’s flat affect and her girlish borrowings from the discourses of movie and teen idol magazines become increasingly touching, if also disturbing, as the film progresses. “Our time with each other was limited and each lived for the precious hours when he or she could be with the other away from all the cares of the world,” she remarks without evident emotion. “He wanted to die with me, and I dreamed of being lost forever in his arms.”
In the Sight and Sound interview, Malick rightly rejected suggestions that the film patronized its characters, arguing that they were like people he had known growing up in Texas and Oklahoma, the son of an oil company executive. “I see no gulf between them and myself. One of the things the actors and I used to talk about was never stepping outside the characters and winking at the audience.” Moreover, Malick claimed that Holly’s language derives more from her innocence and sincerity than from fifties popular culture or teen magazines. If she occasionally has recourse to pulp images or clichés, it is because “when people express what is most important to them, it often comes out in clichés. That doesn’t make them laughable; it’s something tender about them. As though in struggling to reach what’s most personal about them they could only come up with what’s most public.”
Holly is, according to Malick, caught up in a violence so bizarre and extreme that it is more like a dream or fairy tale. Yet she is also a witness, mediating our access to Kit, who by the standards of postwar American capitalism, is what you might call a loser, trapped in a series of dead-end jobs in Fort Dupree. But, like other folkloric outlaws and gangsters, Kit is recognizably American in at least one respect: he is a self-made man for his time and place. No, he doesn’t rob banks or run numbers; nor does he accomplish anything in the way of an invention or business venture. Kit is neither Edison nor Rockefeller, and by the 1950s, Al Capone and Scarface have quit the cities and the cinema screens. But Kit does have a way with a gun and “stuff to say.” Despite being down on his luck, dependent for work on the local employment office, he sees himself as a person of interest, a newsworthy person whose story will be recounted by future historians. But in a comment that speaks directly to the present, Malick is keen to point out that Kit’s view of himself is politically flawed. Although he thinks he is a successor to James Dean/Jim Stark,
in reality he’s more like an Eisenhower conservative. “Consider the minority opinion,” he says into the rich man’s tape recorder, “but try to get along with the majority opinion once it’s accepted.” He doesn’t really believe any of this, but he envies the people who do, who can. He wants to be like them, like the rich man he locks in the closet, the only man he doesn’t kill, the only man he sympathises with, and the one least in need of sympathy. It’s not infrequently the people at the bottom who most vigorously defend the very rules that put and keep them there.
Consider Malick’s insights about Kit in relation to Robert Warshow’s essay on the classic urban gangster films of the 1930s, “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” a piece that predates academic film scholarship by about two decades.7 Writing in the immediate postwar period, then, Warshow begins his piece by stating that “America, as a social and political organization, is committed to a cheerful view of life.” Our society is organized around the claim that it is making us happier and therefore it is our civic duty, as Americans, to maintain that claim. In public, at least, we must be cheerful, and we can expect the products of mass culture, especially Hollywood movies, to assist us in the project of cheerfulness. And so, according to Warshow, “there is very little difference between a ‘happy’ movie like Good News, which ignores death and suffering, and a ‘sad’ movie like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which uses death and suffering as incidents in the service of a higher optimism.”
In the classic gangster films Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (1932), it is clear from the outset that the gangster hero is from the mean streets of the city; the promise of the American dream is unavailable to him. And that, precisely, is what makes him an American dreamer worthy of attention. He will reach for a slice of the dream, typically behind some enterprising scheme involving bootleg liquor, protection, or a numbers racket. But, and as Warshow argues, the moneymaking venture itself is given little screen time. It is subsumed in the gangster’s real activity, which is “pure criminality: he hurts people.” This is raw individualism backed by brute force. In other words, as the film progresses, success is defined less by the gangster’s business gains than by the “unlimited possibility of aggression.” Therefore, he will in the end, be punished for that success because as Warshow states, “every attempt to succeed is an act of aggression, leaving one alone and guilty and defenceless among enemies.”
Warshow is uninterested in examining thirties gangster films in the specific context of Prohibition and the Depression, still less in relating them to any real-life gangsters of the period. For him, this is a question of genre conventions and expectations – the “experience of the gangster as an experience of art” universally understood by Americans. The films dramatize a specifically American dilemma, an “intolerable dilemma” according to Warshow: to achieve success, we must act with ruthless individualism. The gangster hero embodies and explores that problem, speaking for us and “expressing that part of the American psyche which rejects the qualities and demands of modern life, which rejects ‘Americanism’ itself.” With his death, the gangster resolves the dilemma, freeing us to “acquiesce in our failure.” In its rise and fall narratives and the critique of American dream notions of success embedded there, in the fully anticipated, unavoidable death of the gangster hero, the classic gangster film restores the experience of tragedy to a national culture of cheerfulness.
Is Badlands a seventies variant of the formulaic rise and fall crime story – now with a youthful, denim-jacketed, fifties outlaw as tragic hero? Is it possible to conceive of Kit Carruthers as a projection of a collective malaise, a figure who plays out our conflicted feelings about success and happiness? Does Kit, to borrow again from Warshow, speak “the ‘no’ to that great American ‘yes’ which is stamped so big over our official culture and yet has so little to do with the way we really feel about our lives(?)”
Certainly Kit’s story, like that of Charles Starkweather and indeed, that of Warshow’s gangsters, will end in his solitary demise, precisely because his actions have set him apart from others. Death alone, then, is the only possible outcome. But the narrative trajectory of Badlands is not so much rise and fall, as flat and flatter, flat as the Great Plains that provide the setting for Kit’s final hours as a fugitive. This is a shapeless account of one inexplicable crime after another, each murder as alienated from the murderer as it is from the rest of us. We are offered little in the way of rationale – “He was provoking me when I popped him. That’s what it was like, a POP.” – Kit says, after killing Holly’s father.
Moreover, if tragedy is an experience of art that may afford a safe exploration of larger cultural conflicts and dilemmas, then Badlands cannot be called tragic in the way that the thirties gangster films can. Kit is not a bank robber or a bootlegger. There is no discourse of success, no object to his crimes, no rationale or set of business motives to provide at least a backdrop to the violence. Nor is he a Depression criminal like Clyde Barrow, although here the differences begin to blur. Bonnie and Clyde was made in 1967, and its characters’ alienation was thoroughly recognizable to youth audiences at the time. Nonetheless the cinematic Clyde Barrow was shown, like his urban gangster contemporaries, to emerge from the historical context of the Great Depression, a set of circumstances that had inscribed themselves upon him. That history is aestheticized in the film, but we continue to feel its presence. Indeed, Warren Beatty seems to have picked up where he left off in Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass in 1961 (another movie anticipating sixties youth sensibilities, but set during the roaring twenties and post-crash thirties), keeping his look, but moving from quiet high school athlete and resigned son of an overbearing father (in Splendor) to psychopathic cruelty (in Bonnie and Clyde) without ever escaping the back story – the hard times of the thirties.
In Badlands, historical context weighs far less heavily on Kit, his actions and his story. “I don’t think he’s a character peculiar to his time,” Malick stated in the 1975 interview and, as already noted, Malick was far more attuned to the impact of place on his characters than on social historical narratives. And in another departure, Malick commented that Holly “is in a way the more important character; at least you get a glimpse of what she’s like.” Therefore, it is Holly who unveils Kit’s disparate gestures of self-invention and self-importance. She tells us, for example, that he regularly fakes his signature in order to prevent others forging official documents in his name. She describes how he registers his love with a written vow, then releases it in an air balloon:
Kit made a solemn vow that he would always stand beside me and let nothing come between us. He wrote this out in writing, put the paper in a box with some of our little tokens and things, then sent it off in a balloon he’d found while on the garbage route. (pause) His heart was filled with longing as he watched it drift off. Something must’ve told him that we’d never live these days of happiness again, that they were gone forever.
After they consummate the relationship, as she buttons her shirt, Holly wonders aloud whether it has gone the way it was “supposed to” and if that’s “all there is to it.” Receiving little more than affirmative grunts from Kit, she finally asks of no one in particular, “Gosh, what was everybody talking about?” Kit has almost nothing to say about what has clearly been the briefest of sexual acts, a by-the-numbers deflowering enacted on a riverbank, but he understands it symbolically, as an event, a rite, an occasion to be marked. Picking up a large stone he declares that they should crush their hands with it, so as never to forget “what happened today.”
If Badlands is a story outside history, as Malick claims, then Kit is bent on creating one for himself, a history of himself, or failing that, finding a memento to stand in for a history that will go unnoticed and unsung, as our histories tend to do. “I’m going to keep it for a souvenir,” he says finally, of the stone. “Or maybe one that’s lighter,” he adds, tossing the heavy stone away and reaching for a more portable one. These are the scenes that, true to Malick’s wish, prevent my “winking” at his character’s expense. I feel, with Kit, the sadness and futility of our attempts to mark our own passages. Memento mori: remember that you must die. Perhaps more to the point: remember that you must be forgotten.
Malick sought to downplay the fifties setting.8 This tactic would, in his view, “take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality.” Certainly, once the first murder is committed, the sequences become increasingly dreamlike, beginning with the house fire, filmed as a montage of Holly’s disappearing world and childhood – the living room and kitchen, fruit on the kitchen table, Holly’s bedroom with its brass bed, a doll and dolls house, sheet music flying off the piano in drafts from the flames.
As Kit and Holly drive out of town to begin a life as fugitives, the grey road ahead dissolves into a grey river and we catch our first glimpse of the film’s pivotal wilderness sequence. They hide out in a cottonwood grove, living in a treehouse made of willow and tamarisk branches, learning to fish, carry wood on a yoke, and bathe in the river. This sequence is the closest Kit and Holly come to stepping outside time, and Holly recalls it with sad pleasure: “Sometimes it was like being in a big marble hall. The way we talked in low voices and heard the tiniest sound… I grew to love the forest. The cooing of the doves and the hum of dragonflies in the air made it always seem lonesome and like everybody’s dead and gone …”
Nonetheless, touches of domesticity remain. Holly wears curlers in her hair, she reads aloud to Kit, they keep chickens and squabble about chores, they dance to a pop tune playing on a Zenith portable radio. The treehouse is furnished with items salvaged from the fire: a Maxfield Parrish picture, a quilt, a stereopticon viewer belonging to Holly’s dead father. These are the small objects and moments that act as the fragile strings preventing Holly’s complete drift from her own past.
When she looks through the stereopticon, she finds a mix of images: a canal, a camel boy in front of the Great Pyramid, cows by a fjord, a mother and child, a woman playing piano, a family on the lawn, a soldier whispering to a girl. Public scenes and private ones, a glimpse into worlds wider than Holly, and before Holly. She says, “It hit me that I was just this little girl, born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter and who had only just so many years to live.” The voice-over, given with a sense of secrecy, thoughts withheld from Kit, speculates about the past, but also about a possible future without Kit:
It sent a chill down my spine, and I thought Where would I be this very moment if Kit had never met me? … Or killed anybody? This very moment… If my Mom had never met my Dad? If she’d of never died? … And what’s the man I’ll marry going to look like? What’s he doing right this minute? … Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn’t know me? Does it show on his face?
Kit is fishing with his crude net. He stops briefly to watch a truck passing down the highway in the distance, then goes back to work. This stretch of river seems dangerously close to civilization.
For days afterward I lived in dread. At times I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.
If Kit is fighting time’s forgetfulness, Holly is haunted by its ceaseless workings, its randomness and contingency, by our inability to fall asleep and dream of a magical land, and finally, by the unknowable future. Our history, as Kit fears, may not be marked or remembered. But nor can we step outside it: history pushes us along, it makes us, even as we try to make history. There is some hope in that. But in Badlands, the American dream is no longer about success or failure. It has become, instead, the landscape of these passages.
- Badlands, DVD, Terrence Malick (1973; Warner Home Video: 1999). [↩]
- Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Robert B. Louden, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 71. [↩]
- See Amy Kenyon, “The Lost Potential of Nostalgia,” amykenyon.net, March 16, 2014. http://amykenyon.net/2014/03/16/the-lost-potential-of-nostalgia/ (originally published by Salon.com). [↩]
- Beverly Walker, “Malick on Badlands,” Sight and Sound 44:2 (Spring 1975): 82-83. [↩]
- Other than the mention of Sinclair Lewis, Malick’s understanding of the American Midwest is as unclear here as in many of our cultural representations of it. This is partly because the meanings, borders, and locations of the Midwest have shifted confusingly across at least two centuries of American history and settlement. [↩]
- It should be added that these themes also lend themselves to the road movie genre. And although it is arguable that the conventions of the road movie could be discerned in early Hollywood film, in westerns especially, and by the thirties in particular films such as The Wizard of Oz or It Happened One Night, then later still, in film noir, it would be the late sixties and early seventies that would prove crucial to the development of the road movie as a recognizable genre, with Badlands regularly cited as a key film. [↩]
- Robert Warshow, “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” Partisan Review 15, no. 2 (1948): 240-44. [↩]
- “I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island.” It is arguable that Malick has not entirely succeeded in this: to the film’s baby boomer audience especially, the fifties remain palpable in the look and dress of Kit and Holly, the streets and cars, numerous cultural references. And in a poignant tableau marking the fading romance, the couple slow dance in the car headlights, night pressing on the scene, to Nat King Cole’s “A Blossom Fell” (1955). [↩]