When Badlands was released in 1973, no one had seen anything like it. It’s not that the story was unique, renegade lovers on the run from the law was familiar territory for Hollywood (Arthur Penn’s classic Bonnie & Clyde had come out only 6 years earlier) but in director Terrance Malick’s hands the treatment of this material was anything but routine.
He was a first time director and former Rhodes scholar who, after several poorly received scripts in Hollywood (including the produced but unreleased Deadhead Miles), was determined to see his writing done justice. He financed the film with $25,000 of his own money and what he could cobble together from small time investors.
The film was Inspired by real life serial killer Charles Starkweather, a James Dean obsessed teen psychopath who went on a sensationalized killing spree with his girlfriend in the late 1950s. Malick takes the basic elements of that story and turns them into a dreamy meditation on the American landscape, his direction giving as much attention to wind blowing in grass as it does to grisly murders.
The protagonists, Kit and Holly–played brilliantly by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek–are seemingly barely aware of the carnage they inflict, for them it is a wild adventure or fairytale (further emphasized by the soundtracks dreamy chimes and Holly’s plainspoken narration). The film was beautifully shot, with widescreen vistas full of oil rigs and desolate landscapes, which often dwarf the couple’s high speed escapes.
Despite the purposefully detached and artistic quality, Badlands struck a nerve upon release; even overshadowing Martin Scorsese’s debut Mean Streets. Reception was so positive that Warner Bros. purchased the film for 3 times it’s $500,000 budget, it remains to this day the most accessible and straightforward of the director’s films and an American classic.
The clothing style of the film is pure Americana. Kit’s uniform is a Type II Levi’s denim jacket (the one with the unusually placed mid-chest pockets) paired with a slubby white T-shirt and straight leg jeans while Holly wears an oversized Oxford shirt that looks like it was borrowed from Kit with (again) straight leg jeans, white bobby socks and some black penny loafers.
This was the casual outfit of a generation of post-war youth and in 2015 you can’t help but admire it’s timeless simplicity and practicality. As a costuming choice, it also saves the film from looking too strongly like a period piece. While most films set in the past will place emphasis on it’s otherness by including distinctive fashion from the era, the fact is that most everyday people would be wearing quite modest clothing far from the cutting edge looks of major city centers that might dominate our imagination.
Badlands sidesteps this by using working clothes that in many ways have remained the same decades after the films release. As Malick himself said, “I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time.”
Kit’s look is pure Americana inspired by James Dean. Especially nice is the short fairly boxy cut of the Type II jacket with it’s generous pockets, a transitional design between the original workwear and the later trucker style fits. For his tee I went with a viscose/hemp blend from Jungmaven as the texture in the film is similarly slubby. Albam’s new straight leg jeans have a nice no-frills 1950’s quality. A good broad ring belt is available from Makr and finally I settled for these A.P.C. zip chelsea boots over Kit’s cowboy boots (assuming more of us are working in front of laptops than in feedlots) it should create a similar silhouette and actually is pretty close to what James Dean himself would have worn at the time.
Levi’s Type II jacket in Rigid
Made in the USA and available for $395 at Brooklyn Denim Co.
Jungmaven Original hemp tee
Made in the USA and available for $35 at Jungmaven
Albam Straight Leg Jean
Made in England and available for £115 at Albam
Makr English Bridle Leather ring belt
Made in the USA and available for $55 at Makr
A.P.C Classic Boots
Made in Portugal and available for $545 at A.P.C.