Saturday, May 29, 2010

Inspiration: Badlands (1973)

I'm still 'tidying' my room. I'm picky when it comes to organising. And surprise surprise the wireless didn't work yesterday, so I have to wait for a new modem next week, so its standing up in the hallway until then.

“In 1959 a lot of people were killing time. Kit and Holly were killing people.”

Badlands is another of my quintessential summer favourites. I don’t think its one of those ‘classic’ films of the seventies that is commonly reminisced over in the popular imagination, nor is it subject to late night annual re-runs. That’s not how I came across it, I might have discovered it sooner if this was the case. In fact, I consider it one of those films you happen on quite by accident, after some long hot summers day, still crankily awake, unable to summon sleep, spread out on the couch you absently channel surf and the child-like southern voiceover and the drawn-out Texan landscapes capture your imagination. Particularly the eerie playing of Carl Orff's Gassenhauer.

Two of the principal reasons I am nostalgic for the seventies are coupled into this beautiful film: Terrence Malick directing and Sissy Spacek in front of the lens.

Malick’s films are pure visual poetry. The naivety of youth matures into desperate realisation, the trappings and limitations of human love are all too quickly realised. Badlands was Malick’s directorial debut.

The film Badlands is a “dramatization of the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of the 1950's, in which a teenage girl and her twenty-something boyfriend slaughtered her entire family and several others in the Dakota badlands.” (from

Badlands is set in the fifties, allowing for a delicious melding of two iconic decades in fashion. From the outset, when Sissy’s character Holly Sargis encounters the handsome Kit, “He was handsomer than anybody I'd ever met. He looked just like James Dean.”, she is attracted to his outsider status. He wears all the material trappings of the young rebel – white t-shirt and jeans, coolly combing his hair, abrasive and disdainful towards a society where he falls so low on the social scale, reduced to working as a rubbish collector. He is in his mid-twenties, trying to imitate a life he has only seen so far on the silver screen. He doesn’t conform, in his attitude or in his clothing, yet he’s trapped in conformity. Until by chance he sees Holly on his regular trash collecting route, in a wealthy suburban neighbourhood. He is enraptured by this almost nymph-like young creature, as she immerses herself in her baton twirling, she seems as lonely as he. She is an only child, with no mother and an overly protective father, who far from approves of the disrespectful young upstart, who has no prospects or proper education.

Her gym kit is timeless, any of these items could be bought in American Apparel, a brand that specialises in a preppy, retro look. It works.
In her skimpy gym uniform she was the unassuming object of – sexual attentions yet she was in her lone game, to her father, still very much a child.

In the beginning Sissy’s clothing is almost doll-like, suggesting the way in which her father protects her, his delicate possession. To him, she is incapable of experiencing human emotion, or rather, he wants to shield her from the dangers of adulthood. Her hair is neatly groomed and she is curious yet shy about -, like a lonely young child excited but apprehensive at the prospect of a new adventure. Love can be dangerous, as this film explores, love is an adventure, though this film does not romantically presume that the outcome is going to be a positive one. Love can be destructive, it can be transient, but nonetheless it makes an imprint on our lives, on each individual human experience, perhaps at a cost to others.

As Sissy matures and becomes more defiant her style becomes more androgynous, she borrows from Kit's wardrobe. In the wild she explores her blossoming sexuality, experimenting with make-up. Despite being alone in the elements with Kit, she plays house, making a cosy domestic hideaway out of their secret tree house. She is the wife as she performs whatever domestic duties she can in their forest ‘home’ whilst still trying to retain her essential femininity, for example; tying her hair in a paisley rag to keep her curls in place. Kit has an opportunity to return to the primitive stereotypically masculine role of the hunter-gather.

Strains inevitably begin to show in the relationship. As Holly matures and becomes more aware, whilst Kit is perfectly happy to behave as a vagabond, she tires of it and once again longs to escape, much to his and her frustration.

Working the double denim trend, before it was a trend. (This may be the only instance I see double-denim working.)

Summer seems to be the season for coming of age stories eh? This film is no mere American aesthetic dream, though there is no denying that as pleasing as Malick’s cinematography is to the eye, it benefits greatly from the on-screen chemistry between Spacek and Douglas.

“We had our bad moments, like any couple. Kit accused me of only being along for the ride, while at times I wish he'd fall in the river and drown, so I could watch. Mostly though, we got along fine and stayed in love. 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. When the leaves rustled overhead, it was like the spirits were whispering about all the little things that bothered 'em.”
You can’t neglect to watch this film this summer. I’ll be taking direction from Spacek’s wardrobe though, particularly in finding the perfect pair of shorts.

The most mundane moments are transformed into emotive dialogue: “At this moment, I didn't feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you're sitting there and all the water's run out of the bathtub.” (Holly)

The real beauty of this film is how Malick skilly juxtaposes the horror of Kit's almost routine killing spree with the pensive, restrained untamed nobility of the surrounding landscape.

This romantic ruffled blouse benefits from being dressed down with jeans and a minimum of make-up. Or if you’re lucky enough to possess the natural elfin beauty of Sissy.

One of my favourite outfits was the simple red and white floral print dress, in a simple 50s style cut. Seen in this joyful scene:

I always welcome new film recommendations! I have a whole summer to fill whilst I job hunt.

Screencaptures source


  1. that was a rather beautiful post - i will most DEFINITELY be watching this film in the near future xx

  2. wow i love the 70's style in this that you captured and described perfectly! Thanks for the inspiration :-D

    xoxo Bardot in Blue

  3. I love Cissy Spacek! Such good inspiration!!

  4. I like the photos you chose they are inspirational

  5. I haven't seen this movie, or heard of it before, but I'm definetly going to put it on my "to watch" list! :D
    Hmm, film reccomendations? Well I just saw The Virgin Suicides and enjoyed that. Some other of my favorite summer films would be Rear Window, I Capture the Castle, and Atonement. :) Also, I hear Cracks is very good.

  6. Ah I love the screen shots that you chose, love the 50s style so much!

  7. Great review! Terrence Malick is a great director, I love Days of Heaven & The New World but surprisingly, I have not seen Badlands...thanks for the intro...I'll definitely be watching it :)

  8. love badlands, love your fringe also!