Archive for July 20th, 2011


Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

    In Days of Heaven (1978), we have a very young narrator with a gift, for putting a spin upon horrific incidents, which is both lively and worldly. She covers her older brother’s flight from Chicago, circa 1910 (on having murdered the overbearing foreman at the steel mill where he worked), along with her and his girlfriend, in this way—“Me and my brutha [“Bill”]… we used to do tings togedda… We used to have fun, roam the streets…Der was people sufferin’ pain and hungur. Some people, daer tongues were hangin’ outta daer mout… He used to juggle apples… He usta amuse us. He was amusin’… Lookin’ for tdings. Searchin’ for tdings… Goin’ on adventures… In fact all tree of us were goin’ places… Dey told everybody dey was bruddah and sistah. You know how people are. You tell them somethin’, dey start talkin’.”

    As it happens, the bite of the powers that be extends far beyond umbrage about contravening such ruling pieties. That trio’s “adventure” plunges them into the prairie hinterland of Chicago (where, among other things, they regularly picked through garbage along the river), as far as the Texas Panhandle. The natural surround of verdant and gently rolling hills, deliciously colored and textured skies, receives further focus as a farming factory, the beautiful might showing its far less beautiful side, to the point, in fact, of consigning the family we know, and a bunch of strangers they shared the roofs of boxcars with in making their trek, to a crushing grind not unlike that of the steel mill. With the golden hues of the grasses and the blues of the soaring skies maintaining a link to purities of dynamics, the trio show us a helter-skelter consciousness (doggedly piling mown swaths in the fields, desperately feeding ripe bunches into the combines) dispiritingly bereft of gold and sweep. “Workin’ all the time, never stop… Just keep goin’… You don’t work they’d ship you right outta der…Tdey don’t need you…. Tdey can always get someone else…” At a low-point in being rattled like a toy, the compromised lovers awaken in the fields where they are meant to be, with deposits of snow in their hair and on their tattered, earth-toned clothes. The foreman discovers that the young landowner has fallen in love with the brutha’s big sistah and takes a switch to what he regards as a suspicious stray. He accuses her of sloppy work, docks her three dollars and fires Bill when he protests. She intervenes before Bill kills his second foreman, and soon they are aware of the difficult-to-play windfall of the boss’ needing them (as augmented by natural trespasser and eavesdropper Bill’s having caught wind of the guy sittin’ pretty also sittin’ on a cancer that leaves him a year at best). “Whyn’t y’tell him you’ll stay?”/ “What for?”/ “I don’t know, somethin’ might happen.” (more…)

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