Inspiration: The New World

As part of developing my visual culture, I wanted to watch movies by Terrence Malick, of which I’d already seen Badlands, my own myth of American freedom.

The one that arrived in Netflix was “The New World”, which he’d been working on apparently at least in his head since the 1970s. It was an Avatar movie without the special effects before Avatar, which I havent seen. "The New World" is not a documentary per say, but it is a historical movie, and one that recreates with a perception of reality as a basis, which is as close a definition of a documentary that I would have.

This movie is about Jamestown, Virginia 1600s settler John Smith and the myth of his possibly pedophile attraction toward Pocahontas and her own possible infatuation with him, which may or may not have been, probably not, but is now part of American lore, for better or for worse. The new world's Adam and Eve story that could have been but wasn't.

Notwithstanding the artistic license and the treaded subject, the movie quickly and effectively recreates important American moments, with beautiful sweeping scenes of undulating nature and bodies, with an abundance of trees on both sides of the Atlantic, from which a purposely unsteady camera rushes in, around, from below and through, theater like caricatures of the desperate settlers and spiritual Native Americans, balletic fight scenes, rumblings and sighs from inside the gruff Smith and the sensuous Pocahontas, which together raise many questions about what was the land we now call America and what it has become.

There is little dialogue, it is almost a silent movie, but you can feel the change happening with a thud.

You can also feel the pain when Pocahontas who goes on to marry a tobacco pioneer first wears a tight corset and uncomfortable shoes on enclosed prison-like settled land that is quickly being transformed by the newcomers heavy hands.

But you can also see the possibilities of cinema as an art to reclaim and mythologize a past that perhaps never was, much like Badlands.

Credit goes to Malick for being a dreamer of better worlds, a poet with a camera, and warning us against where we are going, by showing us where we might have been.

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