This week in Advancement: Acclaimed auteur Terrance Malick edited “The Thin Red Line” while doing something that might surprise you—listening to Green Day.
The Advanced Genius Theory was originally limited to explain why musicians like Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Miles Davis inevitably become embarrassing approximations of their former selves. (Answer: they actually just advance beyond our comprehension so they just seem terrible.) However, when writing the book about Advancement, I thought it would be interesting to deal with geniuses outside the music world. While there are plenty of good candidates in other disciplines, finding truly Advanced geniuses who are not musicians is complicated because Advancement is a measure of individual genius, not collaboration. In fact, musicians must go solo before they can Advance, as otherwise their output may be dependent on others’ input rather than their own genius—this is why Bono is not Advanced. But going solo is not an option for most other types of geniuses.
It is particularly difficult to identify Advanced actors because not only do they have to read lines written by someone else, their actual performances are shaped in ways outside their control by cinematographers, soundmen, musical supervisors, directors, and editors. This is particularly true if the guy editing is doing the job while listening to Green Day instead of the dialogue. According to an article in Slate about the new DVD release of The Thin Red Line, this is exactly how Terrence Malick chose to edit his first movie in 20 years. This is our topic for the week.
After first reading of Malick’s fascinating—and possibly Advanced—behavior, a number of questions immediately came to mind:
1. Which Green Day CD was it?
My guess would be “Nimrod,” since it came out in 1997 and The Thin Red Line came out in 1998, but I kind of hope it was “Dookie.” Or maybe he was into their music before their major-label debut? I would like to know because I want to listen to the proper Green Day CD while watching the movie so I can watch the movie under ideal conditions.
2. How did he develop this style?
This is what really gets me. He hadn’t made a movie since the 1970s, so it wasn’t like this was something that had a chance to evolve. Was he listening to the Ramones when he was editing Days of Heaven? Or did he just think to himself, “I’m making a movie about World War II that will eschew plot in favor of a meditation on the nature of violence and the beauty of nature. Gotta be Green Day.”
3. Did he invent the “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” video montage?
Since its release, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” has been used in montages for everything from the World Series to a “Seinfeld” clip show to graduations, weddings, and Sarah Silverman’s abortion memories. If Malick was indeed listening to “Nimrod” while viewing scenes from his movie and then he told friends about how wonderful it was, it’s entirely possible he is responsible for the montage phenomenon.
4. Was Green Day somehow responsible for the diminished roles played by many of the movie’s major stars?
Viggo Mortensen, Mickey Rourke, and Bill Pullman all were cut from the final version of the film. Adrien Brody, John Cusack, and even George Clooney saw their roles drastically reduced. I’ve never understood why Malick would get all these guys to appear in his movie and then just cut them out, but now I’m thinking that maybe they just weren’t Green Day kind of guys, or at least not as much as Nick Nolte and Jim Caviezel.
Malick doesn’t give interviews or even like to have his picture taken (at least without a Panama Jack hat), so it’s not likely I’ll ever get an answer to my questions. But I am qualified to answer one question myself: Is Terrence Malick Advanced? Not really. To his credit, his career has been long enough (you have to be active more than 15 years to be considered for Advancement), he is ahead of his time (and not just for inventing the “Good Riddance” montage), he is a sell-out (by casting major stars like Clooney and, recently, Brad Pitt), and he is unpredictable (for example cutting out the major stars he sold out for).
But there are two things essential to Advancing that he has not done: he hasn’t alienated his original fans and he hasn’t lost it spectacularly. Even people who think his last two movies don’t stack up to his earlier work will say that he is still a great filmmaker. Truly Advanced Artists are like extinct volcanoes: they were once explosive and still loom large over the landscape but they aren’t ever going to change it again. Malick is seen as more of a dormant volcano, going quiet for long stretches while specialists monitor him for signs of the next eruption. So he can’t be Advanced until he does something that makes everyone completely give up on him, like directing “Rush Hour 5.” Or, even better: he can direct Billie Joe Armstrong in the Broadway version of “American Idiot.” I’ve got my fingers crossed.