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'Song to Song' Review: Terrence Malick's Weird Legend Only Gets Weirder

On the eve of launching their new album, 'Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?' Black Lips hosted a screening of the film at The Roxy Cinema.

Last night, Black Lips hosted a screening of Terrence Malick's unreleased Ryan Gosling/Rooney Mara/Michael Fassbender/Natalie Portman/Cate Blanchett/Val Kilmer/Patti Smith/Red Hot Chili Peppers/Iggy Pop/Black Lips movie, which was shot by Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant, Gravity), and I'm pretty sure the fact that the theater wasn't totally packed says a lot more about where we're headed as a culture than the actual film, which is actually kind of good. Before I go any further, you should watch the trailer for Song to Song, which you probably haven't seen yet (despite a near-billion-dollar cast in terms of celebrity net worth).


As trailers go, this one's just fine. It's more or less the pacing and tone of the film, it gives an honest picture of the characters without lazily zeroing in on their emotional climaxes, and it gives just enough away to make you want to weigh two or so hours against maybe never knowing what happens to them. And that's true of the actual story, too, which the film's website sums up in just over the length of a tweet (generally the sign of a movie that, too, is just fine): "In this modern love story set against the Austin, TX music scene, two entangled couples chase success through a rock 'n' roll landscape of seduction and betrayal." Nothing too challenging here, nothing that you'd expect anyone to call "Fucking terrible" outright, right? Except that's exactly what the guy sitting next to me did, the second that the lights rose and he could be sure someone would hear him.

Well, I heard him, and I hope he's reading this: You, sir, are wildly incorrect. You're also a dick.

Rooney Mara. Via Facebook

Dicks, actually, made a strong showing at the newly-reopened Roxy Cinema. From the flood of people who evacuated the cozy theater before the Atlanta rockers—on the eve of launching their new album, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?, no less—could even begin their Q and A, you might expect the film to have some type of Irreversible-y can't-look/can't-look-away moments, or lay claim to an indefensible existential viewpoint akin to a Lars von Trier Nazi joke. You'd think they found something in Song to Song that was so absolutely objectionable that they'd write a note and address it to Malick himself. But they won't, belabored shit-talk-fests at shitty bars afterwards notwithstanding. It's because they're dicks.


The Black Lips. Photo: Lance Laurence

Same goes for the music festival audiences in the film (ok, big surprise there) who were apparently angry enough about the fact that Val Kilmer appeared on stage alongside Black Lips at Fun Fun Fun Fest during Song to Song's production that they sent the band hate mail on Facebook and Myspace, as Cole Alexander and Jared Swilley explained during the Q and A immediately after.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling them dicks because they didn't like something that I thought was all-around just fine, either. It's because of the same reason why searching "#blacklips" on Instagram brings up more people pouting in black lipstick than pictures of the only band still holding the torch for rock and roll since The Strokes' silent divorce. It's because we live in a world of raging narcissists for whom the mere idea of something that isn't hashtaggable is a direct affront to all that signals social status, seems worth sharing, and is just challenging enough to generate a handful of smarmy, fake-incredulous thinkpieces.

Ryan Gosling. Via Facebook

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that, to a certain degree, these people who called Song to Song a "Humiliating Wreck of a Movie" are correct: despite, or perhaps because of, its star-studded-ness, it is profoundly humble; humiliating, even, for a star like Christian Bale, who was cut from the film entirely. It is surely a wreck compared to the original eight-hour version Malick is said to have intended. But what the film does in form and content so surpasses the tired modes of standard Hollywood storytelling that I'm inclined to call it something else entirely (but I won't, because then I would be being a dick, too). Song to Song is not a film about music, it is music, improvised in a way only a true master of his craft could make.


Michael Fassbender. Via Facebook

In between stories about the six-plus years it took to make the film, teaching Ryan Gosling how to shotgun a beer, and giving Val Kilmer a herpes scare, Black Lips spoke of Song to Song in a way that very simply explains why I think the film has merit, and why critics, if it does ever get a theatrical release, will inevitably tear it to pieces in the hopes of exposing the fallible human at the heart of such unfuckwithable films as Badlands and Days of Heaven: "When movies are long and slow, sometimes it's like a challenge," said Cole Alexander, "but it also feels more realistic sometimes, because life can be kind of boring. [Malick] kind of just went into that a little bit. It feels realistic in that way, like the nature of a day passing by."

If you're the kind of person who complains about waking up in the morning, you're not gonna love this movie.

Natalie Portman. Via Facebook

Black Lips' Satan's Graffiti or God's Art? is out today on VICE Records. Listen to it here: Apple Music | Spotify | iTunes | Google

Full disclosure: I'm hosting a screening of Gummo tonight at the Roxy Cinema. Click here for more information.


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