Life moves pretty fast, if you’re talking Terrence Malick. Just a few days ago it was announced the legendary filmmaker’s latest film, which he’d called “Weightless” as if to taunt his detractors, was now called “Song to Song.” Now it’s opening Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival in March. Perhaps you’re old enough to remember when there wasn’t any Terrence Malick news, because he wasn’t making any new films between 1978’s “Days of Heaven” and 1998’s “The Thin Red Line.” Now we have two in two years, following last spring’s “Knight of Cups,” which followed the also speedily made “To the Wonder.”
And of course, now that Malick’s back in action, no one’s really paying attention. “Song to Song”’s choice slot at one of the world’s coolest festivals should turn some heads, as should the by now di rigueur sprawling name cast, a probably not very accurate list of which you can read on the film’s Wikipedia page. (Rest assured that stars Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara definitely weren’t cut, as famously often happens.) But five Woody Allen films’ worth of marquee talent didn’t do much for “Knight of Cup”’s box office last year, and even going IMAX with the Brad Pitt-narrated “Voyage of Time” didn’t seem to make much of a cultural dent.
“Song to Song” sounds like more of the same, specifically of what we’ll call Malick 3.0. (You could make a case for four kinds of Malick, given his early days as the screenwriter of un-“Malick-y” classics like “Dirty Harry” and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” but whatever.) Malick 1.0 comprises his dreamy “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven.” 2.0 was his comeback epics, like “Line,” “The New World” and “The Tree of Life.” This newest iteration finds him working at smaller scales, and this is where he’s lost both the mainstream and a chunk of his onetime followers. We, however, think Malick 3.0 is pretty amazing, even if their excellence requires deeper digging than usual. “The Tree of Life” is obviously amazing (right?!); “To the Wonder” takes some work.
“Song to Song”‘s SXSW premiere is fitting, since Malick shot it in Austin, all the way back in 2012, with certain scenes filmed at Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest. It’s a fine way to get into audiences’ good graces. Hopefully the parts of the critical cognoscenti who’ve abandoned him will give him, and his most recent work, another chance. It will open in theaters one week after its March 10 debut, namely the 17th, if you don’t want to do math.