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The "Thin Red Line" (BFI Modern Classics) Paperback – 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: BFI Publishing (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844570444
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844570447
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 0.7 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 473,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Michel Chion is the author of many books, among them Kubrick's Cinema Odyssey (BFI, 2001) and Eyes Wide Shut (BFI Modern Classics, 2002).

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Jan 2006
Format: Paperback
A film as spellbinding and enigmatic as The Thin Red Line cannot be easy to write about. Michel Chion's attempt is to me a valuable start - a superficial sweep over a deep and complex film, with pertinent insights, and a few real gems.
Sometimes, Chinon grasps the essential in certain scenes and expresses it well ('In Malick's work play has a primal quality … it is the expression of life itself.') Elsewhere, he is less close to unveiling the sorts of enigmatic truths and observations the film presents, marred in over-interpretation or questionable philosophical asides.
The text was originally written in French and translated to English. The translation has a noticeably uneven tone, as well as a few odd French idiosyncrasies which draw attention to themselves. What's more the text is not justified to both margins, making for even harder reading. The majority of the film quotations, presumably translated back from the French, seem to have lost or changed prepositions from the original English, thus slightly altering their emphasis or meaning. On the other hand, the author draws interestingly from French criticism, and brings a slightly different angle of approach to the film as many Anglo-American critics have done. One other thing is the surprising absence of Martin Heidegger throughout. Heidegger is an important philosopher to the interpretation of Terrence Malick - many feelings and ideas found in the films have a conceptual background in Heidegger's philosophy. The nature of Being and its relation to individual beings, the role of language, poetry, and the meaning and orientation of life are all Heideggarian themes, strongly present in all of his films.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D. Allen on 10 Aug 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a badly written book (and not just because it has been translated from the French). Daft statements are offered as if they are profound insights - e.g.: 'All human beings have walked in grass as high as themselves - at least I should hope so'; 'In Malick's films animals do not speak at all - or very little' (?!); 'Before cinema, phenomena of different scales could be made comparable only by words' (oh yes? - what about painting, sculpture, etc...?). I could go on. This book annoyed me so much, it almost made me dislike the film - and it's a great film. Avoid, avoid.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ian C. Smith on 28 Nov 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This film really deserves several books written about it- it is one of the most complex and provoking films of the last ten years. While too slim this book is a good start to the debate. Hopefully it will prove a success and encourage a more indepth study. Fans won't find too much new here, and indeed I don't think the author is 'right' about a few of his assertions, but it is a fairly good read while it lasts.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Plagued by fundamental problems 23 Sep 2007
By J. Adams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Terrence Malick's, 'The Thin Red Line' is one of my favorite films so I was excited to read Mr. Michel Chion's discussion of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Chion discuss elements of 'Thin Red Line' in relation to Malick's previous two films, 'Badlands' and 'Days of Heaven' as there are themes present in all three films. I also thought the author did a good job in discussing the distance between characters (whether it be in relation to the dialogue, or the way Mr. Malick chose to frame his shots) as well as man's distance between ourselves and nature.

My biggest problem with Mr. Chion's book has to do with the voice-overs (or monologues) that populate 'The Thin Red Line'. The monologues in the film are incredibly important, which Mr. Chion admits, indeed, he spends much of the book relating the monologues to what is, or is not, happening on-screen. He also attempts to penetrate the meaning of these statements as they relate to the 'bigger picture' (love, death, life etc.) However, Mr. Chion's problem is that he does not credit the monologue with the actual character who is speaking it.

I'm not sure if the mix-up is due to Mr. Chion being French and that perhaps he saw a dubbed version of the film, or was just unable to tell the accents apart, but the North American DVD release of the film, does tell the viewer (if the subtitles are turned on) who is speaking the monologues. As well, if you listen carefully, you can hear the subtle differences in voice between the characters of Private Witt (Jim Caviezal) and the speaker of the majority of the monologues, Private Edward Train (John Dee Smith).

Many of you may think, 'so what?' Does it matter who spoke the monologue/voice-over or does it matter what the monologue says? I agree, WHAT is said, is more important then WHO said it, generally. But Mr. Chion's discussion, indeed his thesis, is severely hampered by his mistake as to the monologues.

For example, Mr. Chion spends a great deal of time breaking down the ending of the film, and the final voice-over found at the conclusion (the one that contains the phrase 'look out at the things you made, all things shining.') He states that a disembodied Pvt. Witt makes the statement (an honest mistake perhaps, as both Witt and Train have deep southern accents) when in fact it is Train that makes the speech. Chion believes that Witt is the central character in the film and that we are, perhaps, trying to understand the relation between war and nature, through him. Dead at the end of the film, Witt can reflect back on what has happened.

The problem is that Train (the young soldier at the end who says something to the effect of, 'I've been through the think and thin of it...') makes the 'big' statement, changing the meaning of Witt (as Chion sees him) and introducing another character into the discussion (Pvt. Train). Again, because Chion spends so much time on Witt and the monologues, their importance is front and centre. But because he cannot tell the speakers apart, his view as to the meaning of the film is hampered (and dare I say, incorrect).

I value the attempt of Mr. Chion in this book, and in general, the other books in the BFI Modern Classics series, but the fundamental failure of the author to attribute the monologues to their owners, cripples this book's power.

J. Adams
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Good book about a great film and filmmaker 18 July 2005
By John S. Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This film is difficult to categorize and even harder to discuss in simple terms. Author Chion devotes a lot of space in this book to comparing each of Malick's three films to one another. Hard to tell if Chion is very insightful or just grabbing for straws sometimes.

Of note, Chion wrote this text in French and only later was it translated into English. It is significant because the same translation issue comes into play watching the film with French subtitles. Some of the characters' inner-monologues in the film have words and expressions that just aren't directly translatable into other languages. Chion, being bilingual, has the interesting perspective of experiencing the film in both languages and can make comparisons between the two, noting subtle and not-so-subtle differences in interpretations.

I believe that to get the most out of this book one should have seen the film multiple times. But if you are thinking of buying this book, chances are you have already seen the film mulitple times anyway.

And for good reason.

Recommended book, though a large percentage of seems to be more about Malick's body of work than this particular film.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An excellent primer 7 Jan 2008
By Cubist - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Precious few books have been written about reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick and his films. So little factual information is known about the man, so when a new book is published, there is a certain amount of anticipation by fans of his work. Michel Chion has written a book under the BFI Modern Classics banner that attempts to decipher many of the mysteries and enigmas that surround Malick's 1998 film, The Thin Red Line.

Chion recognizes that the film has no beginning or ending and therefore an analysis of the movie can begin at any point, which is exactly what he does as he makes an excellent observation about the jaded character of First Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn): "But perhaps Welsh has rediscovered that spark of consciousness and anxiety that had been extinguished within him. Perhaps the death of an individual is what allows the flame to move from one to another."

He argues that Malick's film places animals, the environment and human beings on the same scale -- a very unique concept as most movies put an emphasis on one group over another. Chion illustrates the unusual approach that The Thin Red Line takes on its subject matter. Characters pontificate about life and death and love and hate in "erratic, fragmented interior monologues" that embody "mysterious relationships created by the way shots are cut together, in the contrast between small details and big events."

There are several themes that run throughout Malick's movies and Chion does a good job of identifying what they are and then analyzing them. For example, he writes about the isolation that the protagonists in his movies experience. Many characters in The Thin Red Line are either shown to be alone in a shot or through voiceover narration. Direct conflict between characters is also avoided. Even the big showdown between Captain Staros (Elias Koteas) and Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte) is done over the phone. Both Private Witt (Cavaziel) and Welsh are solitary figures alone with their thoughts -- Witt with his notion of another world, a paradise waiting for him, and Welsh with his cynical view that the war is only about property and nothing else.

Chion's book is an excellent primer for Malick's challenging movie. Newcomers to his cinema are given a thumbnail sketch of the filmmaker and his body of work and major themes. Chion does not just analyze The Thin Red Line; he also identifies its structure and breaks it down into five separate sections. At one point in the book, he even deciphers what the Japanese soldiers say. His writing style is clear and concise and acts as the perfect companion piece to this important movie.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Solid Book That Reviews In Detail A Malick Masterpiece. 17 July 2014
By A. Nathaniel Wallace, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is the perfect mini compendium to the motion picture of 1998.

Michael Chion does a masterful job in describing Terence Malick's masterful movie in abstract terms; this book may not be for everyone. The constant allusions to Malick's two previous films--Days of Heaven and Badlands--may very well irk the reader. It seems almost as if Chion was reviewing those two films more than he was The Thin Red Line. That being said, when he does review The Thin Red Line he is spot on. case in point, Chion points out that none of the shots (Aside From Us Looking Down On Soldiers From A Plateau) are shown from the air. This showed how Malick wanted to concentrate on his shots from the ground only. This was good but also gave a staid perspective in the movie. Malick also chose not to mention the oppressive Guadalcanal heat in his film. This too was a mistake. Yet he had his reasons. Chion does not speculate overmuch as to what the reasons were.

I recommend this book highly for those who are interested in the behind the scenes machinations of Thin Red Line. Interestingly, although this film was rated "R," it had very little blood and gore. Indeed, I felt there should have been more if only to punctuate what the horrors of combat actually are.

See also my review of the movie. This is the Fourth Review of this movie for Amazon and the third Four-Star review.

A. Nathaniel Wallace, Jr.
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