This has, many, many times been called the most beautiful color film ever made. It’s hard to disagree. A poetic biblical parable played out in the Texas Panhandle at the turn of the century, it gives total preference to the emotion of imagery over the emotion of the actors. It’s an exercise in feeling and seeing that’s so successful it elevated Terrence Malick into the ranks of visual storytellers like Tarkovski and Kurosawa. Shot on a punishing schedule that included almost nothing but sunset and sunrise set-ups, the film radiates with an intimate light and a precise, unflagging eye to detail, all the more amazing since Cinematographer Néstor Almendros – who had worked with Truffaut – was going blind (Haskell Wexler shot half the film, but did not share in the Oscar for Best Cinematography). Here is Malick’s reoccurring themes in all their glory, most notably the beauty and struggle of nature (very few scenes are shot indoors) as wheat and weather and animals and the human heart swirl into a whipping, but somehow always languid, storm. And here too is where Malick’s famed refusal to compromise first reared bold. Shortly after shooting began Malick threw away his own script forcing the whole production – actors, cameramen and art departments – to improvise along with him; he refused to follow standard lighting schemes or structure his workdays according to traditional Hollywood protocol, causing crew to quit the production and accuse the filmmaker of not knowing how to make a movie; the budget flared out of control; he shot for a year, bringing actors back again and again for pick-ups, then edited for two more after that. The film reportedly exhausted Malick and shortly after finishing it he made his mythical disappearance from the world stage, fleeing to France. As we all know, Malick didn’t make another movie for two decades, but had he left it all here on the table in this, his second feature film, way back in 1978, he would still be known as one of the most important American Directors. On another note, Linda Manz, with her extraordinary elvish face and easy adult nature, is amazing in this movie. She seems entirely legitimate. It’s sad we have so few films with her in them.