“I felt that people that frown on voiceover, it’s just a stupid thing. You think of the pictures that had voiceover, and they’re the best pictures ever. I mean, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Jules and Jim. Jules and Jim is 90 percent voiceover. And The Wild Child. And even commercial films. Billy Jack had voiceover. Clockwork Orange. So that, “Show it, don’t tell it,” I think is a stupid reaction. You can be inventive in an independent picture with voiceover, and it’s one thing you can do that, in a large studio picture… they aren’t likely to do. And voiceover also helps you to cover an enormous amount of time...as long as you don’t use it the wrong way, and that is to cheat on exposition. And you can even use it that way and it’s just fine. You know, I really do believe that as long as a picture has the breath of life in it that it’s not going to matter what kind of mistakes you make, including the expository use of voiceover.” – Terrence Malick, 1976
Do we still treat narration and voiceover like proper filmmaking technique’s bastard step-child? People have been mouthing the “show, don’t tell” platitude for decades now. And it’s understandable: The desire to “tell” is often great, and it’s not a bad idea to combat convenience and temptation. But still. Forget the films Malick cites in the above 1976 quote and think of the ones we’d cite now, many moons later. Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Malick’s own Badlands and Days of Heaven, Full Metal Jacket. Or avoid the film-snob brigade altogether and make your way down to Risky Business and/or Avatar, if you prefer.