Anyone familiar with Terrence Malick’s cinema masterwork Badlands will have spent a lifetime haunted by the gorgeous innocence of this thoroughly beguiling percussion piece, written by the great German composer and musical educator Carl Orff to be performed by children, in the belief that if the very young could be introduced to music of sufficient subtlety and beauty early on, it would awaken in all of them a love for the nuances of rhythm, harmony, and melody, and in many a nascent musical talent. It’s perhaps only on account of its use in a movie about a viciously pointless killing spree, based on the infamous real life exploits of Charles Starkweather and girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate, that some listeners will also discern an underlying tone of sadness and even menace to this otherwise straightforward and uplifting piece.
One wonders whether Malick selected it to evoke a subconscious sense of the childlike dreams, emotional reactions, and motivations of his film’s protagonists, whose behaviour often seems utterly naive and full of almost infantile wonder, at least during those calm, sometimes dreamily surreal on-screen interludes between murdering nearly everyone they encounter along the way (the soundtrack’s use of similarly pristine, wistful works by Satie seems to be making the same point). His characters inhabit a world devoid of empathy, and like little kids who never received the sort of loving guidance essential to proper socialization, they lash out.
I imagine Gassenhauer sounds a bit different to those who weren’t introduced to it this way: