For a certain contingent of film fans (those that write for and read this site, for example), the release of a new Terrence Malick film is almost like a holiday. Sure, they’re not always great, but every Malick film is like a peek into the psyche of one of the best filmmakers of all time. And therefore, it’s an event. Plus, like any good event, the release of a new film doesn’t happen all the time, so each still feels special. This is what makes the idea of an unproduced Malick film, such as “Chief of Sinners,” such a tragedy.
In a new interview with Vulture, composer James Newton Howard, who worked with Malick on the recent film “A Hidden Life,” talked about an aborted project he was working on with the filmmaker that never came to be. And judging by his description, it’s a damn shame because whatever “Chief of Sinners” was going to end up being, it seems like it could have been incredibly interesting.
“We had actually begun work on a film probably eight or nine years ago that never happened, which was a sort of parallel story between Jerry Lee Lewis and Jerry Falwell,” said Howard. “It sounds very odd, but it was a really cool, unusual script.”
He continued, “It had a long title. Something about the ‘Chief of Sinners.’ Terry and I got together for a number of sessions over a period of three or four weeks, and then it just kind of went away. Terry went off to do ‘The Tree of Life,’ and I didn’t hear back from him again. I figured I must have written something that he really didn’t like, and it was enough to drive him away to go do another movie. Then, when ‘A Hidden Life’ came along, he gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested in working on it with him, and I certainly was. Like many people, I’m a big admirer of his.”
The composer went on to explain a bit more about what the film would have looked like.
“I guess I can’t really say what kind of value that this screenplay would have had on a commercial level because it was somewhat obscure,” he added. “But we talked a lot about this guy, [Bishop] T.D. Jakes. Is that his name? One of these really evangelical, dramatic, charismatic guys. We watched a lot of his sermons together. Terry would actually emulate him, quite effectively, in talking about how he wanted the whole thing to feel. The music I was writing was terribly wrong. Now that I’ve been immersed in Terry’s sensibilities, I can see more clearly why he went off and worked on something else.”
We can add this project to a list that Malick has either left unproduced or hasn’t gotten around to working on. Sadly, we can’t just clone the man and let him work on all the films that he has in his mind.