Linda: Just for Comic Relief

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of Life, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

I found a little more time before making that announced pause. My last post was very gloomy. We need a comic relief around here. Linda is good for that. If you think that you have read strange things about Malick and his tastes in this blog...


“It was all very queer. But queerer things were yet to come.”
(Sunset Boulvevard)

You know, Malick is not always a demented nihilist with a camera, a crazy psychopath. Sometimes he is just plain stupid. I wrote somewhere that Days of Heaven was Malick’s most obvious film. This is true in what concerns to the general idea. His allusions to Psycho and Sunset Boulevard are very transparent. Once you get these you are in position to start understanding the little jokes, like that shot inspired in Pasolini. But what about Linda?
In Badlands Malick was just Kit. He assumed the character of James Dean and started his killing spree. All very simple. In Days of Heaven Malick divided himself in two, Bill and Linda. This solution announces the future explosion of his one big self in The Thin Red Line. But it was something different too, as he assumed a feminine character. Linda is not Holly, there is no erotic relation with her. She is Malick, the director.
One thing I tell you, not in a million years I would have gotten the joke with Linda if I had thought – as it would be natural with Norman Baites around – that Malick associated her with some sinister cinematic myth/character. It was just by chance that I found out about Linda. As I noticed that she made a little bit of tap-dancing with a black worker, all the suddenly I became very angry with Terry: Hey, that’s not fair! That’s cheating! Linda hasn’t curled hair! You haven’t been true! I want my money back!

From Rebel Without a Cause (Kit) to… the Littlest Rebel (Linda). If Malick is not plain stupid...

The black worker is Bill Robinson, the famous tap dancer who did several films with curly Shirley. Below, The Little Colonel

That school for girls with Victorian atmosphere from where she escapes in the end is another attribute (The Little Princess and that sort of “masterpieces”).

Linda seems to have learned to de-feather a chicken and to cook in Miss Minchins School.

You think that this isn’t enough? Well, maybe it isn’t but I confess that the moment that I read this in the script (Linda was Ursula in the script)

“Abby is dressing in the cool woven shade of the woods when Ursula, her face caked with a mask of river mud, jumps from the bushes with a shriek, scaring the wits out of her sister.”

all my doubts about Linda were finished.

Two details of Littlest Rebel with Shirley in blackface (sorry about the colorized version but you were certainly not expecting me to buy a dvd of this “wonderful film”).

And that’s just great because with the obvious exceptions I doubt that I have the necessary patience to see all Shirley Temple’s films. If this subject interests you, go ahead, but my love for science is probably not great enough to submit myself  to such a torture. I just ask myself if Malick’s cinema, accumulating grotesque caricatures from its beggining (it all starts with the 40 years old family man version of James Dean/Sargis and that bum Plato/Cato to end in RL, the American middle class sweet Tadzio) is not more indebted with the tradition of Baby Burlesks than with the “noble” one of The Seven Year Itch. (By the way, it seems that Shirley’s first daughter is called Linda. Was that why Malick kept the actress’ name?)

From the title sequence: Lewis Hine, Paris Gamin (detail), c. 1918. That title sequence seems to be even more complex than I imagined... It most be full of crazy allusions, Curly Top appears there as Hine’s gamin. (That’s still cheating with Linda, Malick.)


It seems to be a good idea not to neglect the photos in Malick’s films... like this one, of the Farmer’s mother. Know her? “Ah, great old lady.” (Frenzy)

Malick couldn’t film it, but I can’t help to think that in his imagination he/Linda/Shirley sings Polly Wolly Doodle to Norman Baites. I honestly would like to see that. Wouldn’t you? Just imagine such a scene. Hitchcock must be rolling in his grave.


And maybe not that stupid…
“Try to keep an open mind. Try to understand the viewpoints of others.” (Badlands) I have decided to add a few lines to this post exactly because of its first image, Bill playing with Linda as if she were a puppet, a doll, a toy, anyway.

As a matter of fact, Linda/Shirley was a very famous toy. I have to read that new biography, maybe Malick had a Shirley doll. Just kidding.

I think that they didn’t produce these until the '80s ... but Malick made one for him in the '70s, remember?

I said that Malick was like a boy playing with his toys, remember? That was the point stressed in my second post. Did you love to play for hours and hours with your dolls, soldiers, little cars, dinosaurs (even if the game was not Vertigo), whatever? Did you like to imagine battles, crazy stories with them, to build scenarios, imaginary territories to stage your plays? Those really interested in Waco’s wacko: consider to go deep into the world of children’s games. Everything is a toy for sweet little Terry’s pleasure. First of all his celluloid friends. He, a very enterprising child, makes toy versions of them, so he can invent crazy stories in which he takes part, fantasy adventures in which he can submerge, forgetting everything he hates, everything he condemns forever, that unreal real world outside the movie theater. Malick was “just” someone who understood that an actor is as manipulatable as plastic, wood, paper or porcelain. And that one does not need to change the medium. You can produce a cinematic toy of a cinematic character.

Not a Shirley Temple doll, not a Great Depression film, not even an American one, but what matters is the girls look.

Bill’s doll is Shirley Temple, the most popular child star of all time. From 1934 on, hers was the most coveted of all the dolls. It sold millions of copies along with Curly Top’s underwear, coats, hats, shoes, books, hair ribbons, soap, dresses, toys, cereal bowls... It became the most desired Great Depression girl’s toy. Our friend certainly knew this. It might be a clue to understand his strange, apparently rather ridiculous choice. (I don’t have to bring here the reasons of Shirley’s popularity in those dramatic years, have I? By the way, notice the presence of the theme of dreams in her films, for example in The Little Princess.)

Know this?

Shirley’s was certainly the most famous ever, but these kind of dolls weren’t new, of course. Charlie Chaplin dolls, for example, were produced since 1915, one year after the first celebrity movies-themed doll making its appearance. A fiction hero from somewhere over the rainbow avaiable in your hands. Probably a serious enquire would start at least with the history of paper dolls. You know, those with which you can make little theaters, like Alexander’s. All the famous film characters and stars had a paper doll version.

Playground of dreams. “To dream is not another way of experiencing another world, it is for the dreaming subject the radical way of experiencing its own world.” (Foucault)

I ask myself if this is not Bergman’s house. It was always a conflicted place, wasn’t it? What you say, Monika and Harry adopted Fanny and Alexander? I think there is a bit of Summer with Monika in Badlands, maybe Kit shaving in the tree house is an allusion to it (and those glass objects at the window could be an allusion to the scene where Harry breaks one in the film). As for Fanny and Alexander, if you know it (I have only seen the theatrical version), you will certainly understand why Alex (Fanny is in there, but this image didn’t catch her) would fit in Waco. Crazy idea to consider in the future.

Thinking about her.

But the doll with which Malick tried to play the most in his last game was from a different nature. It was something like “presence” in the strong sense. That doll which scared us and Alexander to death and granted Bergman one of the most powerful moments of his cinema. You know, big daddy.

Bye for now.