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FILM CLIPS

A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : LOOK WHO WE FOUND : Re-Enter the Reluctant Dragon, Terrence Malick

March 21, 1993|MARY WILLIAMS WALSH

Suddenly, the mystery of Terrence Malick, the Hollywood dropout who wrote and directed the acclaimed "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven" in the '70s, isn't so mysterious. Malick is planning a comeback--first as a playwright, and then as a movie writer-director, and has chosen Polish director Andrzej Wajda as his stage collaborator and set a timetable for his return.

Wajda will direct Malick's stage adaptation of Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 film "Sansho the Baliff"--in a New York workshop next fall, then hopefully on Broadway in 1994. The production will feature an all Asian-American cast. Malick reached an agreement with Wajda in December in Warsaw with his 15-year colleague, film and theater producer Bobby Geisler.

Declaring that Malick was tired of his hermit image, Geisler last fall broke the news of his stage plans as well as two screenplays--an original titled "The English-Speaker" and an adaptation of James Jones' novel "The Thin Red Line"--that Malick has written and plans to direct. All three will be produced by the New York-based Geisler and partner John Roberdeau, and are being funded by an anonymous investor from outside show-biz circles.

The schedule is pretty much set, says Geisler--the play first, then in no particular order, Malick's modestly scaled film of "The English-Speaker," to be followed by "Line," a World War II drama that occurs during the battle of Guadalcanal, and a third movie option they declined to disclose. Which means that the 49-year-old Malick's screen comeback is at least two years off, if not three. Geisler does not expect funding to be a major problem. "When we have everything ready, we'll give Hollywood a call," he says.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 28, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 29 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
The author--Jeffrey Wells wrote last Sunday's Film Clips story on director Terrence Malick. Another writer was incorrectly identified as the author of the piece.

When the time comes, Malick can depend on help from his ex-agent, TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy, or "Badlands" producer Ed Pressman ("Hoffa") in setting up a production deal. Pressman had "a very pleasant lunch" with Malick about two months ago. Malick was a dinner guest at Medavoy's home earlier this month, along with his Harvard classmate, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. "We've skirted around the idea of doing something," says Medavoy. "I'm sure when Terry's ready, it'll happen."

But what exactly has Malick been doing with himself since the 1978 release of "Days of Heaven"? Why did he become a recluse for 14 years? And why, given his apparent loathing of fame and urgent need for privacy, has he decided to step back in the spotlight?

The fact is, Malick never entirely severed his contacts with Hollywood. True, he's only visited occasionally and has mostly lived in Paris and Austin, Tex., with his wife Michele (a former Paris guidance counselor whom Malick married in 1988) and her teen-age daughter. But until the late '80s, he rented a Santa Monica beach apartment. And following an aborted project entitled "Q" (a.k.a. "The Beginning of the World"), a film about prehistoric times that he developed and prepared to film for Paramount before abandoning it in 1979, Malick stayed active as an off-and-on, hired-gun writer.

Among his better-known scripts of the '80s: "Hungry Heart," a modern-day "Grapes of Wrath" written for Ned Tanen at Universal in 1984; an adaptation of Larry McMurtry's "Desert Rose" for producers Rob Cohen and Keith Barish, and a dark, arty version of the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic "Great Balls of Fire" for Orion Pictures in 1987. Malick has also continued to work on "Q," which was described in 1990 by playwright Sam Shepard as "absolutely brilliant" but "unfilmable." Geisler says the project is still active. "I wouldn't consider anything that Terry has ever written to be dead," he offers.

Why did Malick abandon his career at such an early stage? Most of his friends and colleagues agree that Malick was apparently unable to create under the glare of fame. As Malick said in his last English-language interview 19 years ago, just after "Badlands" opened, "From this point on I'm being watched. That could trip me up." After "Days of Heaven," Cohen recalls, "it got worse. He said 'Why is everyone looking at me? I'm just a guy who suffered through a couple of movies.' " During those days, Malick complained to a friend that his life was like "standing up in a rowboat . . . making phone calls, missing phone calls and wondering about the phone calls I didn't get."

What Hollywood types fail to grasp about Malick, Geisler adds, is that movies "are not, for him, something to be urgently involved with around the clock. He's perfectly satisfied to take his time and live the life he's living."

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