His film “The Tree of Life” just won the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but director Terrence Malick chose not to appear in person to accept it.

Shyness is one of a number of personal qualities that Malick shares with many other creative and gifted people.

In a recent profile article, writer Steven Zeitchik notes that friends and collaborators ‘paint a portrait of the reclusive filmmaker as a complicated and contradictory man.’

For one thing, Malick is a ‘a huge fan of “Zoolander,” Ben Stiller’s 2001 send-up of fashion fabulousness… “I think ‘Zoolander’ is one of Terry’s favorite movies ever,” said Jack Fisk, Malick’s longtime production designer, who has known him for nearly 40 years.’

The article continues, ‘The director dislikes being photographed, avoids public appearances — he skipped the premiere of his highly anticipated, long-delayed “Tree” last week here at the Cannes Film Festival — and turns down all interview requests (including this one), creating an impression of a cranky, precious artist.

‘But conversations with nearly a dozen friends and collaborators reveal a different portrait of the 67-year-old director who has made only five movies in nearly four decades: “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The New World” and now “Tree.”‘

These people who know him say he is ‘painfully shy in public but jovial on his sets, gentle but fiercely driven. While he believes in the mystical, he nonetheless has a strong belief in science.

‘Though he can be rigorous to the point of obsessive, he also has a childlike sense of wonder, the kind that might cause him to gaze at a nearby woodpecker or butterfly in the middle of shooting a scene.’

Jessica Chastain, who stars opposite Brad Pitt in the film, commented “When I first met Terry, I thought we’d be talking about film. He’s more interested in you and where you come from than spouting his ideas.”

‘Fisk added that the director can talk to anyone about anything, from the origin of asphalt to breeds of birds to life in North Africa. “He knows so much but he always makes you feel like he knows less than you do,” he said.

‘Malick has been hailed as a genius by some and derided as pretentious by others for his first four directing efforts, which favor slow pacing, sweeping visuals and a contemplative tone to tease out human and natural moments…

‘Malick surrounds himself with a small circle of confidants whom he has worked with for years, using them as a sounding board and conduit to the outside world. Few are more inside than Sarah Green, who produced “The New World” and was Malick’s right hand on “Tree” as well.

‘Green clearly doesn’t like speaking for Malick but often winds up doing so anyway, describing how much he laughs and how everyone on set can feel comfortable talking to him; he is not trying to seem enigmatic, she says, but just wants to live a private life. (Which of course makes him seem more enigmatic.)

‘Certain elements of his personality are undeniable. Even Malick’s close friends acknowledge that he can get worked up, and admit he has an obsessive side. He began collecting images for “Tree” nearly 40 years ago. He would write and rewrite pages of the script nearly every day on set, and rented multiple houses and had them outfitted identically so he could shoot the same scene at different times of the day.’

From Will the real Terrence Malick please stand up? By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011.

That last item reminds me of the obsessiveness of another acclaimed director, Stanley Kubrick – see my High Ability site post Stanley Kubrick: gifted and shy.

Related pages:

Self-tests: giftedness / high ability

Self-tests: creative talent / personality

Related posts:

Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?

Creative Obsession

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