5. Sound, Subjectivity, and Death: Days of Heaven (promesse du bonheur)
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207 plot. Days of Heaven (1978). The story is set initially in Chicago and thereafter in the Texas Panhandle in 1916–17. The film is narrated in voiceover by Linda (Linda Manz), a girl of about twelve years of age, whose older brother, Bill (Richard Gere), is the lover of Abby (Brooke Adams). They are destitute. Bill works in a foundry; Abby salvages detritus from garbage heaps; Linda makes paper flowers. Bill, provoked at work by his foreman, attacks and perhaps kills him, and immediately runs. Soon thereafter the trio flee Chicago, heading west by hopping a freight train. Once in Texas, they go to work for a young, wealthy (unnamed) Farmer (Sam Shepard), having been hired as migrants to help with the harvest. Bill and Abby masquerade as brother and sister. The farmer develops an interest in Abby. Bill encourages the romance, having overheard that the Farmer is terminally ill. Bill plans for Abby to marry the Farmer and, after his predicted impending death, inherit his lands, after which Abby, Bill, and Linda will be fixed for life. Abby reluctantly agrees. The Farmer’s foreman, who regards the younger man as a son, is deeply suspicious of Bill and Abby. After the harvest and the departure of the other migrants, the three itinerants stay on, living with the Farmer in his Victorian house on the open prairie. Over time, Abby falls in love with the Farmer, triggering Bill’s increasingly dangerous jealousy. The couple marry; Bill departs. The Farmer, Abby, and Linda live together in obvious contentment. Bill unexpectedly returns the following season, triggering the story’s tragic ending. The 5 SOUND, SUBJECTIVITY, AND DEATH Days of Heaven (promesse du bonheur) With high woods the hills were crowned, With tufts the valleys and each fountain side, With borders long the rivers; that Earth now Seemed like to Heaven, a seat where gods might dwell, Or wander with delight, and love to haunt Her sacred shades. MILTON, PARADISE LOST 208 • M O D E R N I T Y , N A T U R E , A N D D Y S T O P I A Farmer eventually discovers that Bill and Abby are not siblings but would-be lovers; he experiences anger toward Abby and outright rage toward Bill, all of which comes to a head during the harvest, which coincides with a plague of locusts that is rapidly destroying the crops. The Farmer orders the migrants to drive off the insects using smoke from a controlled fire set for this purpose. Soon thereafter the effort turns chaotic when the Farmer, furiously lashing out at Bill with a kerosene lantern tied to a long pole, inadvertently ignites the uncut grain, which soon burns out of control, destroying the unharvested field and the farm implements. The next day, amidst the still-smoldering, blackened land, Bill—knowing the Abby loves the Farmer and not him—prepares to leave. He is confronted by the Farmer, who stalks towards him pointing a pistol; Bill, who is repairing his motorcycle and holding a long screwdriver, fends off the Farmer, stabbing him in the chest and killing him. Bill, Abby. and Linda flee, pursued by the distraught foreman and a posse, who eventually catch up. Bill is shot in the back, dying instantly. At an unspecified later time, the final scenes show Linda in a small-town boarding school taking a dancing lesson. Abby, handsomely dressed—presumably she has inherited from the Farmer—bids Linda goodbye and leaves to catch a train. Linda shortly thereafter escapes from the school, meeting up with a young woman whom she befriended while on the farm; the two of them walk along the railroad tracks and into their unspecified future. STILL PHOTOGRAPHY AND HISTORY: OPENING CREDITS The title sequence of Days of Heaven is set against a series of twenty-four late-nineteenth/ early-twentieth-century black-and-white photographs, most paced at about four to five seconds each, principally of urban laborers and the destitute, adults and children of both sexes, of the sort famously captured in the muckraking exposé How the Other Half Lives (1890).1 The music underscore is the seventh section, “Aquarium,” of Camille SaintSa ëns’s Le carnaval des animaux (1886), of which more presently. The first photograph serves as a kind of establishing shot, initially of the upper stories of buildings on an urban block, then tilting down to a teeming street scene, seen from above. The photograph fixes time: long past, essentially...


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Subject Headings

  • Music -- Philosophy and aesthetics.
  • Modernism (Music) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Opera -- Social aspects.
  • Motion pictures -- Social aspects.
  • Sound recordings -- Social aspects.
  • Nature in music.
  • Nature in motion pictures.
  • Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924. Fanciulla del West.
  • Fitzcarraldo (Motion picture).
  • Days of heaven (Motion picture).
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