Days of Heaven

Magic hour in “Days of Heaven,” 1978.

There was a moment on my walk this morning, at about 5:30 a.m., when I just stopped dead in my tracks and watched the horizon change from blue-black to blushing violet.

In the movie industry, this stretch of time is known as magic hour. Cinematographers who shoot in these few precious moments, if they know what they are doing, have the ability to create some of the most beautiful imagery one can imagine.

The best known example of an entire motion picture, shot almost exclusively at magic hour—sunset also qualifies as magic hour—is Days of Heaven (1978).  The late Nestor Almendros ( 1930-1992) something of a genius, was Director of Photography (the great Haskell Wexler also worked as DP) and every frame of the film dazzles.

Though something of an art house movie, Days of Heaven had a profound effect on my psyche. As a young screenwriter, anxious to learn my craft, I managed to get hold of the shooting script and was struck by the manner in which the pared down language of Terence Malick’s screenplay managed to suggest the power of the final imagery.

Why do I bring this up the day before the 2012 presidential election?

In 1978, I was a young, struggling, impoverished screenwriter. Ever since I was a child, all I ever wanted was to marry Karen, my wife, and to be a Hollywood screenwriter.

I worked hard. I struggled against insane odds to make both dreams come true. So preoccupied was I with my personal and professional struggles, I never realized, never really understood, that by virtue of being an American, I was given the liberty to pursue my dreams.

I took this gift of freedom for granted.

Shame on me.

Days of Heaven is a romantic drama, a love triangle set against the immense Texas panhandle, where migrant farm workers harvest crops that whisper in the wind like biblical psalms. The landscape, painfully beautiful, becomes, in and of itself, a character in the film. This is a vision of America that those who love America hold close to their hearts.

I fear that the America I love, the America that has allowed me to travel from Brooklyn to Hollywood is gradually being crushed under the onslaught of the utopian left.

This radical ideology is personified by the Obama administration which promotes dependency on government, government as family, government as g-d.

Utopian leftists recognize no boundaries between the state and the individual. They seek a radical egalitarianism, a constant agitation to perfect man and society. To do this, the left cites the squishy doctrines of social justice and fairness. To do this, the left must crush the individual and his personal yearnings. To do this, the left institutes a one-size fits all model. This is Obamacare. If enacted in full, your body belongs to the government. You are no longer you; you are just another dot in the matrix of government statistics.


There I was, at 5:30 in the morning, watching the swollen sun rise, thinking of my life, thankful that I have achieved my dreams. And yet, fearful that America’s days of heaven might soon fade to black, like the end of a memorable movie.

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  1. Jeremayakovka
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Rich account. Are we living 2012: An Ideological Odyssey?

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink


      2012: An Ideological Odyssey, my next script:-)

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  2. Barry
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink


    All that you have written seems more than sensible, but Terence Malick bores me. Worse than Henry Jaglom. And, I don’t believe Malick is on our side of the fence.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink


      I admire Malick’s “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” enormously.

      Malick did his PhD on Heidegger, a philosopher I find particularly repellant. What can I do?

      Henry Jaglom is, unquestionably, the worst filmmaker in Hollywood history.

      My admiration for many directors, writers and actors in Hollywood comes in spite of their dopey politics.

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      • Barry
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink


        Isn’t Heidegger the guy looking for “beings” …that alone should knock Malick off any perch. The movies, a pretty good director once said, are like life with the boring parts cut out. The parts of Malicks films you like are photographic. He didn’t shoot these things although I conced poliitically and socially the cinematographers probably had a similar point of view. If he is a radical lefty and a bore it is way to “liberal” to salute him, for me, that is.

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      • Miranda Rose Smith
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        I don’t admire DAYS OF HEAVEN at all. The shots of the countryside were beautiful, I grant you. They all looked like Andrew Wyeth paintings. The story: FORGET ABOUT IT!  

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  3. DrCarol
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Wish I could be optimistic about Romney’s chances but I’m not.  🙁

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Dr carol:

      By nature, I am an optimistic person. But I lost every single color war in which I participated as a child in Summer camp. Such a dismal record leave a deep impression.

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    • kishke
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      I’m optimistic. I think he’ll win.

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      • Robert J. Avrech
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink



        Translation from Hebrew: “With G-d’s help.”

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  4. greystone
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    In this country of great liberty, may Romney win and lead us to the values that separate us from government controled societies. Tomorrow is a turning point!!Thank you Robert for all your pearls of wisdom and unending allegiance to the country you love! 

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink


      Thanks so much  for the kind words. Here’s hoping…

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  5. Johnny
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I remember when the Oscar nominations came out the critics agreed that the only sure winner was Days of Heaven for Best Cinematography. Curious about how much of the look was Almendros and how much was Wexler? Either way it is incredibly gorgeous.

    Freedom is the big divide between liberals and conservatives. Liberals love a nanny government while conservatives understand such a government by definition and practice has to restrict our freedoms. That’s our biggest complaint about Obamacare – it restricts our freedoms for the supposed benefit of getting health care. I don’t want to give up my freedoms for a government that says it will take care of my health problems like they do in Canada and England or (Massachusetts).

    Democrats are happy to give up freedoms for perceived security but conservatives understand the folly of such thinking. 

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink


      I still have the Days of Heaven script. It’s a masterpiece. It was a troubled shoot, and it took Malick 3 years to edit!

      For postmodern Democrats, slavery is freedom, pure Marxism.

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  6. Karen Singer Avrech
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    It’s ironic that the masthead of the Drudge Report is a dark sky with the banner, “Twilight for Obama?” Something monumental is on the horizon, let’s hope that the sky will brighten on Wednesday morning illuminating a country that has reaffirmed liberty, faith, and family.

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    • Bill Brandt
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Amen Karen. Tomorrow the dogs will have to have an abbreviated walk so I can attend to “other matters”.

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      • Robert J. Avrech
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink


        Karen and I vote early. In this way we do our research, then sit down and do the ballots together, checking each other to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.

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        • Bill Brandt
          Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

          Robert – right after this post I will go over the CA propositions one more time only 1 I think I will vote for (I’m sure you can figure out which one!) but one more check –

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